Anger as Belfast forfeits Commonwealth Youth Games
Funding woes are blamed on stalemate at Stormont
There was anger last night after it was confirmed that Belfast will lose the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games due to lack of funding.
The city won the bid to host the Games two years ago, but the £2.5m funding requested by organisers had not been signed off by the time the Executive collapsed in January 2017.
- Editor's Viewpoint: Decision not to host Commonwealth Youth Games just one more example of price we pay for political failure
On Monday, in an email to UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt, NI Civil Service head David Sterling said that "funding for the event does not represent value for money".
He added that, in such circumstances, financial support could only be given through the direction of a minister - impossible given the ongoing Stormont stalemate.
Organisers had until yesterday to confirm funding with the Commonwealth Games Federation or lose the competition.
In a statement, the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) said it was "disappointed" at the Department for the Economy's decision not to award funding.
It said: "The Youth Games would have brought nearly 2000 of the world's finest young athletes to Northern Ireland to compete in more than 20 sports.
"A legacy plan involving sport, volunteering, culture, integration, social cohesion, education and health has been discarded."
NICGC claimed requests to share the business case for the event were "repeatedly refused" by Tourism NI and the Department for the Economy.
"This is hardly a classic example of transparency and accountability within government and the decision-making sends a strong message to the international community that Northern Ireland is closed for business," it added.
NICGC said bids would now reopen for the Games, and it would "wholeheartedly support the new host".
"To our young people, we can only apologise for the behaviour of your elders in positions of influence," it added.
"They have let you down on this occasion."
Northern Ireland Sports Forum (NISF) chair Richard Johnson said it "shares the frustrations of NICGC, our members and the sporting public that what would have undoubtedly been the largest international multi-sport event Northern Ireland could ever host has now been lost".
"The absence of an NI Executive has meant the support required to ensure delivery for Belfast 2021 Youth Games has not been available," he added.
NISF executive manager Ciaran Kearney said "changes are required to ensure future sporting events are secured".
"We are also concerned that sporting events of this scale will never take place in Northern Ireland under the current practices and assessment criteria used by the department and Tourism NI and this must be resolved," he added.
"It is unfortunate that due to a lack of a functioning government, departmental committees are not in operation which would provide scrutiny and oversight to the work of civil servants who are making these decisions.
"Our next generation of athletes who were aspiring to represent Northern Ireland at a home Commonwealth Youth Games on their pathway to giving elite performances will undoubtedly be feeling let down with this outcome."
The Department for the Economy said the business case had been through a lengthy approval process on two separate occasions and it was concluded that funding did not represent value for money.
"The application for funding the event has been appraised on the same basis as other major sporting events promoted by the Executive. There were significant concerns about affordability, limited monetary benefit and insufficient evidence of non-monetary benefits," it said.
"While this is a disappointing outcome for the NI Commonwealth Youth Games Council, without a clear demonstration of value for money there is no basis for an accounting officer to offer financial support for the Games unless they were formally directed to do so by their minister. This means that the department will not be in a position to fund the proposal for the Games to be held in Northern Ireland."
Mr Nesbitt said the situation was "about political failure" and highlighted the "consequent reputation damage".
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said "every red line has a consequence" and that young people "are suffering due to the refusal by Sinn Fein to govern".
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty called the loss of the Games "the manifestation of our political impasse", while Alliance's Chris Lyttle said: "Those who continue to engage in the ongoing political impasse can now add the loss of the Games to their growing list of crises."