Belfast Telegraph

Anger as disabled swimming competition is cut

By Rebecca Black

The biggest disabled swimming competition in Ireland - which has nurtured Paralympic gold medallists such as Bethany Firth - has had to be cancelled due to Stormont cuts.

The event organised by Disability Sport NI includes hundreds of races giving swimmers of all abilities the opportunity to compete.

It has been running for 15 years but this year has had to be cancelled due to cuts by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

The event costs £3,000 to £4,000 for the day, including the hire of a swimming pool. It receives up to 200 entries each year and is mostly staffed by volunteers.

A Disability Sport NI spokeswoman said it is the first event it has had to cancel. It has managed to attract sponsorship for some other events which cost less to run. However, she said that organisers have not heard back from all the funders they applied to for the swimming championships, and said if they are successful they will host the event later this year instead.

The father of a 15-year-old girl who has been training to compete spoke of his anger.

"Hundreds of kids train - my daughter trains 363 days a year - for a championships that costs £4,000. My daughter is 15, academically superb, when she gets her degree I am going to drive her to Aldergrove with a bag to get out of this place because this is an absolute disgrace," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback.

"£4,000 in sports funding taken away from kids who train, whose parents are up at 4.30am in the morning to get them to swimming pools, who train in the evenings when they are tired. To see the smile on that child's face on the one day of the year when that child puts in 110% and gets a medal round their neck.

"Yet someone decided to take that money away from the Disability Sports Council. Shame on them." Disability Sport NI is facing budget cuts of 50% over the next three years and has been forced to make staff redundant and cut back programmes.

DebateNI, page 25

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