Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Sports here urged to make their case for government aid

The London 2012 'Olympic legacy' was supposed to bring Northern Ireland a new Tennis Centre in Hillsborough, a Cycling Velodrome in Downpatrick, a Sailing facility in Ballyholme, an Athletics Centre in Antrim and a Basketball Centre in Lisburn.

That was until the then Sports Minister Nelson McCausland shelved plans for all of the above because "the business cases didn't stack up."

It was, not surprisingly, a decision that went down like a lead balloon with the sports involved.

At Salto Gymnastics Club yesterday, Lord Coe urged everyone in sport in Northern Ireland not to give up and present strong cases in the future which could lead to new or improved facilities, enabling our children to develop in their chosen fields.

Coe said: "Sport will always have to fight and make really good strong cases for government help because the world is a competitive place and other areas will be making their own cases.

"I say, yes, sports here should try and make cases for themselves and ultimately the strongest cases win through. My gut instinct has always been that a great sports policy is a great education policy, a great health policy and a great policy for social cohesion.

"I don't need to tell anyone in this part of the world about the role that sport can play in local communities and normalising challenging circumstances."

While other sports continue to feel hard done by, gymnastics is going from strength to strength with the Salto Club in Lisburn, a 2013 designated European City of Sport, proving to be a huge success.

Lord Coe opened the new facility in 2007 and it is so popular – there's a waiting list of 800 kids to join the club – an extension is planned for the building which hosted the Chinese team before they enjoyed a successful Olympics last year.

Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin said: "This is part of the legacy of the Olympics and the Paralympics and it is a great example.

"There is a bigger waiting list than there are members at the moment. They are interested in looking after elite athletes and spotting the next generation of elite performers. They are also interested in getting children healthy. What they do here is great."

Dame Mary Peters agrees, saying: "They use the same standard of equipment here that was used at the London Olympics and there are great coaches, so our young people are having best opportunity to develop their skills in the sport.

"It's fantastic for Northern Ireland and it is wonderful to have someone of Seb's standing supporting the club."

Lord Coe will support the 'golden girl' herself next month when he returns to Northern Ireland to officially open the new Mary Peters athletics track, a legacy of her Olympic gold.

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