Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Ulster deserves the best facilities: Coe

When London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games Seb Coe had a vision to propel sport to a new level in Great Britain.

Four years on, and the re-generation of facilities in England is advancing and the focal point of the Games — the Olympic Stadium in east London — is beginning to take shape.

A spectacular 80,000 capacity venue to be proud of was the promise and by the time the opening ceremony is thrust upon us, that is exactly what sport in Great Britain will have.

Facilities are fundamental to development in sport and while London can bask in the glory, Northern Ireland's public have felt more than a little short-changed in recent years.

Will it be the Maze? Is there a site in Belfast suitable? When will a decision be made?

Those questions remain unanswered and while the politicians huff and puff their way to a decision about a National Stadium here, Lord Coe, the chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, is adamant the Northern Ireland public need the best there is to offer.

"I am acutely sensitive having been a Member for Parliament, and a politician that you don't march into someone's back yard and start making policy for people who have got to deliver and clearly this is a domestic issue and it's political and it's sport too," said the double Olympic gold medalist.

"I think every community should have the best of facilities available to it. Do I think Northern Ireland and the people, who have sport deep in their DNA, should be given the best opportunity to see and compete in sport in the best surroundings? I say yes.That's not as a politician or anyone who has to deliver on it but of course I want to see communities have the best sporting facilities available to them.

"I went to the old Salto Gymnastics centre here a while back and Tony Byrne said 'I'll do a deal with you. You come back with the Olympic Games and I'll have moved this in two years.'

"And where am I two years later? I'm at the Salto Gym in Lisburn with all Tony's aspiring young competitors in what is recognised as a British Centre of Excellence. That's what winning the bid in Singapore was about.That's one example in Northern Ireland but all sports should have the best there is to offer."

While the cream of the crop track and field athletics has to offer have little chance of showcasing their talents in Northern Ireland, Lord Coe is passionate about making the Games a Great British event for the entire public.

Numbers of athletes from Northern Ireland competing at the top level have dwindled in recent years but Coe sees London 2012 and the build-up as the time to buck the trend — despite the controversy surrounding the use of drugs in the sport.

He added: "I feel strongly about a UK Games even though the base is in London. We have to leave sport throughout Great Britain with the mechanisms to be a success in the future.

"I don't want magical nights like Mary Peters winning the Pentathlon Gold in 1972 to be celebrated on anniversaries. I want thousands to turn to sport because of it. Of course my sport, athletics, has been fragile in recent times and perhaps it hasn't been attractive to potential stars of the future throughout Great Britain.

"But I've always, always said I would rather have the short-term embarrassment, like we've experienced, than sitting back and watching a long-term decline. "When we do have young talent in Northern Ireland, England or wherever, we must look at the air-time given to them and how the sport is marketed.

"I went to Singapore because my instinct is that over the last 30 years we've lost some territory in schools and clubs.

"The Olympic Games is the greatest opportunity in the next four years change exactly that."

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