Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Viewpoint: Olympic gold snatched from Ulster

The jubilation which greeted the news that London won the right to stage the world's greatest sporting spectacle, the Olympic Games, in 2012 is becoming more muted as realisation dawns on the public of the enormous costs involved in creating facilities for the athletes and the global circus which will accompany them.

Nowhere has that cost been thrown into sharper focus than in Northern Ireland where, as this newspaper exclusively revealed yesterday, some £42m is being taken away from good causes over the next four years to help fund the games. The cash cut will impact on community ventures, arts, sports and heritage projects - the very sectors most in need of funding.

The winning Olympic bid by London was sold as a golden opportunity for the whole UK to cash in. Indeed, some £53m has been "provisionally allocated" for the development of world class sporting facilities in Northern Ireland should it be used as a training camp for some international teams or even to stage some events.

If, and it is a big if, such developments do come to pass, then they will be a major boost to elite sports performers. However there will be understandable resentment from the community, arts and heritage sectors who will feel that they are effectively footing the bill.

Lottery funding is a lifeline to many good causes in Northern Ireland. As a society emerging from decades of conflict and under-investment there is a demand for more, not less, finance to help underpin the rebuilding of society at all levels. That demand is all the more urgent given that vital regeneration funding from Europe will be at a much lower level in the coming years.

The Government can argue that Northern Ireland's good causes are not the only ones to suffer. The pain is being spread throughout the UK. However, £42m is a huge sum of money for a small, peripheral part of the UK to lose. With the cost of staging the Olympics being constantly revised, there is a fear that even more funding could be lost in the future.

There is no doubt that the Olympic Games is an astonishing spectacle and that the eyes of the world will be on London in 2012. However, it must be remembered that the Games only last for a few weeks. The main beneficiary of the Games will be London through investment in infrastructure and vast tourism revenue. Peripheral areas like Northern Ireland will see minimal gain.

The greatest legacy of the Games as far as the province is concerned will be lost income for sectors most in need. There will be no Olympic gold for those already suffering deprivation and exclusion. The Government should re-check its accounts to determine if Northern Ireland's contribution to the Olympic bill can be cut.

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