Belfast set to host Commonwealth Youth Games extravaganza in 2021
Northern Ireland is set to be handed the honour of hosting the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2021.
The Commonwealth Games Federation Executive Board are meeting over the weekend and it is expected that they will announce on Monday that the Belfast bid to stage the Games has been successful.
Hosting the Games would provide another boost for Northern Ireland, already on the crest of a wave in terms of delivering sporting excellence around the globe and staging major sporting events.
The Northern Ireland bid for the Youth Games is the only one left on the table for 2021, after Botswana and Jersey withdrew from the process.
If Commonwealth chiefs decide the infrastructure, facilities and finances are in place, the prestigious multi-sport youth event will be coming here in five years’ time.
While not wishing to jump the gun, there is quiet confidence amongst the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) that they will hear the news they are hoping for.
The Commonwealth Youth Games is a smaller version of the Commonwealth Games.
It is open to all 71 Commonwealth nations and territories, with around 1,000 athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 competing in a wide range of sports such as athletics, swimming and boxing.
Showcasing sporting stars of the future, World champion boxers Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan have represented Northern Ireland at the Youth Games in the past.
Like Conlan and Frampton, other famous names to have taken part in the event include World and Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, three-time World champion gymnast Beth Tweddle and tennis star Heather Watson.
It is understood that the NICGC would aim to stage the event in July to maximise spectator numbers giving children, on school holidays, the opportunity to watch and be inspired by up and coming athletes.
A list of sports for the 2021 Games must be submitted by October. The Mary Peters track in Belfast would be the obvious choice in Northern Ireland to stage athletics with Bangor's 50m Aurora pool hosting the swimming.
As part of the Belfast bid, NIFGC Executive Officer Conal Heatley compiled a detailed 36 page document on the economic, tourism, education and sporting benefits of the Games being staged here. Also included were explanations on venues, transport, accommodation, medical coverage and even the climate.
Heatley said: "We have put a lot of work into the bid. Now we are waiting to see the outcome and are hopeful that all our efforts will be rewarded."
The Commonwealth Youth Games have been going since 2000 when Edinburgh hosted the inaugural one.
Last year the Northern Ireland team returned from Samoa with 12 medals (four gold, four silver and four bronze) and a host of good memories.
Bantamweight James McGivern, light-fly Stephen McKenna and light-welterweight Aidan Walsh claimed Team NI's first ever boxing golds at the Games while swimmer Conor Ferguson also made the top step on the podium.
That success in Samoa helped Team NI collect the highly sought after Young Team of the Award at the 2015 Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards earlier this week.
The Northern Ireland Executive will have to help finance the Games. Last year the cost was estimated at around £3.7 million, though organisers feel the exposure around the world, combined with the tourism impact, will more than make up for that.