Belfast Telegraph

The Queen's New Year Honours: Sporting heroes to be proud of

Editor's Viewpoint

Among the 84 people from Northern Ireland recognised in the New Year's honours list are two particularly inspired choices, both from the world of sport. One is the living legend that is Mary Peters and the other is boxer Paddy Barnes.

It may be 42 years since Mary Peters stunned the sporting world by winning her pentathlon gold medal at the Munich Olympics, but she has continued to be an inspiration and role model for young athletes seeking to emulate her achievements.

She has also created a legacy for athletics in the province through the recently upgraded Mary Peters track on the outskirts of Belfast. It provides the sort of facility needed to put budding stars on the fast track for glory. Her rare award of a Companion of Honour - she is one of just 47 people in the UK to hold the award - is fitting recognition of the esteem she is held in throughout these islands. Paddy Barnes could never be described as an establishment figure. He is a sometimes irreverent figure but always guaranteed to put a smile on your face and he is also a very talented amateur boxer. For a young man from a strongly nationalist area to be awarded an MBE - and for him to accept it - shows the changing face and attitudes in Northern Ireland.

Like golfer Rory McIlroy or world champion boxer Carl Frampton, Paddy Barnes does not harbour the ghetto mentality that has blighted life here for so long. They do not want to be defined by where they come from, but by their talent and achievements and by what they give back to this community.

Paddy's award is recognition not just of his sporting prowess, but for his contribution to the whole community. He and so many other young people do more to create an inclusive society than any quango or think tank simply by going out and living life without seeing any barriers to friendships or relationships.

In the past honours lists were frequently criticised because they were stuffed full of establishment figures and civil servants, who appeared to be rewarded simply for doing their jobs.

This year there are many more recipients who could be described as ordinary people, who have made significant contributions to society. Their work may often be unheralded or even unseen by the wider public, but now they have their well deserved moment in the limelight and an award to treasure.

Belfast Telegraph

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