Belfast Telegraph

Caral Ni Chuilin: Tour de France should be next big target for Northern Ireland sport

By Steven Beacom

Caral Ni Chuilin insists that efforts should continue to be made to attract the biggest sporting events in the world to Northern Ireland... and that the Tour de France should be the next target.

Over her four-year tenure as Sports Minister, a host of major sporting events have come here including the Giro d'Italia, Irish Open and World Police and Fire Games, with others such as The Open Championship and Women's Rugby World Cup on their way.

And all this after a troubled period in Northern Ireland's history when organisers of major sporting events and top sports stars would never have contemplated travelling to this part of the world.

Far from being satisfied with the sporting heroes and events tempted here in recent years, Ni Chuilin wants to see even more globally renowned names and competitions in our own backyard.

The Irish Open, which brought record breaking crowds to Royal Portrush Golf Club in 2012, is back in Northern Ireland next week at the spectacular Royal County Down course in Newcastle.

This is just over a year after the province celebrated having the second biggest cycling event in the world, the Giro d'Italia, here for its opening three days, drawing huge support around the country.

There is talk that the Giro will return in years to come, and while the Sports Minister would be delighted with that she also contends that plans should be put in place to try and entice the Tour de France, the biggest cycling event on the planet, to Ireland... north and south. She says: "We should always aim high in trying to attract big sporting events here. Why not aim for the Tour de France? It's been to Yorkshire, so why not here?

"When talks first came up about bringing the Giro d'Italia here there were people saying it could not be done, but I would always say there is no reason why we can't so let's explore it.

"I would say the same for the Tour de France. Let's go for it and see what happens.

"This island is a beautiful island and there is scenery to boast about and a tourism product north, south, east and west.

"We have the infrastructure and now on the back of the Giro we have great experience under our belts and we have shown we can deliver international and world events."

That was one of the key factors behind the successful bid to host the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2017 with the final being played at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.

"I was delighted by that news. To have World Cup games, including the final played here, will be fantastic," added Ni Chuilin.

"The Irish women's rugby team have done fantastically in recent years and they will be so motivated to do well in the 2017 tournament with it being on home turf.

"The sporting side, and the spectacle of it, will be incredible but from an economic viewpoint it is also very important. People will come here from all over the world to watch the tournament, they will take up hotel beds and spend money which means local businesses can benefit from it as well as sports fans."

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