Belfast Telegraph

Dame Mary Peters: Northern Ireland must not be Olympic legacy also-rans

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Olympic legend Dame Mary Peters has warned that Northern Ireland must not be excluded from the sporting legacy of the London Games.

The 1972 pentathlon champion was speaking after David Cameron called for a ‘big cultural change’ in favour of competitive sports to capitalise on the UK’s Olympic success.

Dame Mary (right) has backed the Prime Minister and said schools must do all they can to encourage children into sport and foster the competitive ethos to train the Olympians of tomorrow.

“If David Cameron is saying we must do it, then we should be jumping on the bandwagon to make sure we are not left behind,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Life is competitive. Therefore, if young people learn to be competitive on the sports field they will be more competitive and successful in life. We in Northern Ireland have a very good education system which has lots of sports involvement and that is why we have so many young people coming through.

“I was not very good at ball games — I couldn't play hockey very well — but, I found my way. Young people need to learn.”

Dame Mary, who had been visiting schools across Northern Ireland in her role as Olympic ambassador, said: “Every child should have the opportunity to try as many sports as they can. I do not think it is as much of a problem in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the UK. Most schools here have very good after-school activities programmes whether that be in hockey, camogie, football, netball or whatever.

“However, when you see top athletes earning lots of money and teachers do not get paid extra for staying behind after school you can understand their frustrations and why some may feel aggrieved.

Meanwhile, Dame Mary who endured a lengthy battle to have the running track in her name upgraded, has played down concerns that the legacy of London 2012 could be wasted on Northern Ireland because of the lack of investment in physical infrastructure.

Although she described the axing of five elite projects including a cycling velodrome in Downpatrick, tennis centre for Hillsborough, sailing facility at Ballyholme, athletics track for Antrim and basketball centre in Lisburn as “very disappointing”, Dame Mary has insisted Northern Ireland is not missing out.

“It is an excuse (lack of facilities). I did not have any facilities — I trained at the Queen’s University gym. If people are determined then they will find a way to succeed.

“We have no rowing facility although we do use the Lagan but we have managed to bring back three medals from the London Games, so that should be an inspiration.”

David McNarry MLA said the Olympics legacy could be lost unless there is investment in sports education. “The Olympics are a great success but we may not see that legacy unless there is investment in primary schools and encourage young people to get involved in all sports,” he said.

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley, who sits on Stormont’s DCAL committee, said: “I do not think we have gained to the extent that we expected or as we should have. That’s disappointing.

But Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin, who yesterday announced a major investment for boxing, said Northern Ireland was already reaping the benefits from the Olympics.

“As we continue to cheer on our local athletes, we are already seeing the benefits in terms of sport, the economy and at a grassroots community level.

“It is my hope that the goodwill seen around the Olympic Games will continue through the Paralympics and beyond.” \[s.rowe\] We want to build on what has been achieved for forthcoming events such as the Derry City of Culture and World Police and Fire Games, but also for the benefit of future generations.”

Belfast Telegraph

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