Belfast Telegraph

Minister’s anger at sport boss over Olympic remarks

By David Gordon

A quanqo boss is under fire after saying Northern Ireland's troubled image will deter 2012 Olympics teams from training here before the London Games.

Sport NI chief executive Eamonn McCartan (below) was commenting on the fact that the province has not yet attracted any pre-Games preparation camps.

The Stormont minister in charge of funding Sport NI has hit out at the remarks and is seeking discussions with Mr McCartan.

More than 50 teams have reportedly lined up training camp locations in other regions of the UK for preparation work in advance of the 2012 London Games.

In a BBC interview, Mr McCartan cited fears about violence as one reason why Northern Ireland is not a top choice.

“It wasn't that long ago that we had two young soldiers killed, we had a policeman killed, and recently there was a report identifying the number of dissident issues that have occurred within the last year,” he said. “People train their whole lives for this one performance in the Olympics and they will take a safe route that will get them to their best performance.”

Mr McCartan also highlighted other factors including geographical location, travel costs and access to venues.

His claims about teams being deterred by fears of violence earned rebukes from DUP Sports Minister Nelson McCausland and UUP MLA David McNarry.

Mr McCausland said: “I am deeply disappointed by the comment made by the chief executive of Sport NI. It was totally inappropriate, totally unnecessary and thoroughly unhelpful.

“I believe there is confidence in Northern Ireland — that is obvious from the recent high levels of foreign inward investment.There is also confidence in Northern Ireland as a sporting venue. The organisers of the World Police and Fire Games are planning on bringing 10,000 competitors, along with supporters, to Northern Ireland in 2013.”

Mr McNarry was equally forthright, saying: “His comments give credibility to the threat posed by dissident terrorists.”

A spokesman for the quango said: “Sport NI is confident that along with the department we can attract pre-Games training camp teams to Northern Ireland.”

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