Medallist boosts training potential
Olympic gold medallist Jonathan Edwards has pledged to encourage national teams to make Northern Ireland their pre-London 2012 training base.
The triple jump world record holder told an Assembly committee that squads would not make their final decision where to set up until the end of the year and expressed hope some would choose the region as their headquarters.
"We have a chef de mission seminar in London coming up in August when every single national Olympic committee will be represented," said Edwards.
"There will be representatives there from Sport Northern Ireland to talk to the national Olympic committees.
"Many teams will not be making their decisions up until perhaps toward the end of the year because of qualification issues and I certainly will work very closely with our national Olympic committee liaison department at LOCOG (London Organising Committee for Olympic Games) to make sure that we have the best possibility of attracting teams here."
Sport NI has identified 26 potential pre-games training facilities in Northern Ireland but as yet no countries have committed to using them ahead of the London showpiece.
The Sydney 2000 champion, who is deputy chairman of the Nations & Regions Group of LOCOG, was asked by Culture, Arts and Leisure committee member, the Alliance party's Kieran McCarthy, if the £39 million lottery money diverted from Northern Ireland to the London games would benefit the region.
Edwards said: "I always think in terms of the lottery money - this is a question we are asked not just here but across the UK, this diverting away from building facilities from projects towards the Olympics - and I think the original design of the lottery was always to yes, fund capital projects and also to help projects run, but also for one-off events.
"And I think there will be a swing between the balance of that and I think overall the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games will bring that inspiration which alongside opportunity and investment in sport - which over the years since the lottery started has been huge - I think the two together are a powerful mix."
Edwards revealed that the traditional torch relay ahead of the games will spend four days in Northern Ireland, with an Olympic party scheduled for each of those nights. Asked why no actual Olympic competitions would be staged in Northern Ireland, he said a key strength of London's bid was its compactness, with athletes not having to travel far from the capital.