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Sports clubs would miss chance to grow if NI lose Commonwealth Youth Games, says coach

Sports clubs throughout Northern Ireland would miss out on an opportunity for growth should the bid to host the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games fall through due to the collapse of Stormont.

That's according to Salto Gymnastics CEO and coach Mandy McMaster, after it emerged on Wednesday that the tournament, which is currently due to be hosted in NI, has been plunged into doubt.

This year's Youth Games take place in the Bahamas from July 19 to 23 with Belfast set to be handed the 2021 Games at the closing ceremony.

However, the business case of the 2021 bid has not been signed off by the Northern Ireland Executive and a meeting will now be held by the NI Sports Forum on Tuesday to see if Belfast can still host the event.

"It is a wonderful opportunity because of the amount of benefits that sport has, from health and well-being to social, educational and integrational aspects," said Mandy, who is hopeful gymnasts from her club could take part. "(Failure to host the tournament) would be a huge disappointment to a lot of people involved.

"These games could only help us to grow along with other clubs in a range of sports across Northern Ireland as more people want to take part and see the benefits."

Should the Games go ahead as planned, the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council said they could help pave the way for more high profile events to come to Northern Ireland.

"Having received cross party support to stage the event, we anticipate that the benefits and legacy from the Games will not only have an impact on Belfast but on the whole of Northern Ireland," said a statement from the NICGC. "The Youth Games will provide the opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland as a world class tourist destination which has the ability to stage fantastic sporting events."

The NICGC confirmed that funding support from the government has not yet been guaranteed while the Northern Ireland Sports Forum Chairperson Roy Millar MBE underlined his concern in a letter circulated amongst sporting organisations.

"Failure to hold on to these games will have serious implications for Northern Ireland's global reputation and may adversely impact future bids for other international sporting events," the letter read.

In a further statement ahead of Tuesday's meeting, he said: "NISF believe that this is more than a sporting event. It is an opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland, our welcoming people, our world renowned hospitality and our massive tourism potential to a worldwide audience. Through further engagement coordinated by ourselves, we hope that the relevant stakeholders can come to an adequate and speedy resolution for the benefit of our athletes, our member organisations and Northern Ireland as a country."

The DUP said that the process was unable to proceed "as a result of Sinn Fein collapsing the Assembly, subsequent elections and the talks process."

"Minister Hamilton, who was the then minister, could not approve funding for the Commonwealth Games," continued a DUP spokesperson.

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "Martin McGuinness brought an end to the arrogance of the DUP in the midst of allegations of corruption and the RHI financial scandal.

"He also took a stand against their disrespect and discrimination to certain sections of our society including the Irish language community, the LGB and T communities and ethnic minorities. Both the DUP and the British government know what is required in order to get the institutions back up but so far they have displayed no political will to enable that happening."

Around 1,000 teenage athletes are due to compete in the 2021 Youth Games, following in the footsteps of the likes of Carl Frampton, Michael Conlan and Jessica Ennis Hill.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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