Belfast Telegraph

Why we all must keep the sporting flame burning...

After our Olympic success, we should strive to unite people through sport in the community. By Trevor Ringland

As I watched the closing ceremony of the London Olympics after two weeks of magnificent sport, I wondered how we could celebrate the remarkable achievements of our local competitors.

I feel that we should have a reception for all our Olympians, no matter if they won medals or not. It could be held somewhere like the Odyssey Arena and could include former Olympians to make it a really inclusive event.

The BBC could draw together footage of every competitor from Northern Ireland and we could have some sports personality interview them on their exploits.

The event would be without flags and proceeds from the event could be donated to a sports trust, third world charity or a disability organisation.

This would be a celebration of all the young people, who have been seeking to represent all of us, whether competing for Team GB or Team Ireland.

During the Olympics my friends supported all of our local athletes.

Of course, to cap off the record-breaking number of medals won by local athletes in London, we then had Rory McIlroy winning the US PGA golf tournament and returning to the number one spot in golf's world rankings.

The strength of sport is that it enables us to have different emotions at different times.

We can enjoy the concept of competition as players are pitched against each other and we can also enjoy the concept of co-operation as team-mates support each other against a common opponent.

It is like a metaphor for civil society in general. We learn how to compete without destroying relationships, hate without actually hating and rely on inter-dependence, which is essential to gaining team success.

In a diverse society, it is always a challenge to find a way of enabling individuals to work together constructively.

In the Olympics, we saw in so many of the teams, the different characters which make up the society they represented.

I am often reminded of the Northern Ireland poet, John Hewitt, who called himself a Belfast man, an Ulsterman, who was Irish and British.

If we looked through the Team GB and Team Ireland squads we could see those different connections, these inclusive concepts of our society, in the competitors performing for all the people, whether for the UK or for Ireland. For me the legacy of the Olympics can be summed up in three concepts:

n Do your best, not necessarily be the best. We should aim to bring out the best in our society, just like all our competitors did on a personal basis.

n Respect. People must have respect for themselves and each other. That creates the potential for us to move forward together.

n Friendship. This is the key component of any successful society. We should be striving to build relationships and get to know others rather than destroying relationships or demonising others.

Recently at Seaview football ground in north Belfast, we celebrated the Belfast Interface Games, which was a partnership between the governing bodies of our three major sports, soccer, rugby and GAA - working with Peace Players International and supported by European Peace 3 and Belfast City Council, liaising through the Belfast Interface Partnership. The idea was to give our children a chance to meet and get to know each other better, enabling them to work together as a team and participate in sports in an inclusive environment.

Of course, there are a number of challenges still out there. There are many legacy issues which still have to be overcome, but people on the interfaces of Belfast are showing that they are prepared to come together.

It shows what is possible when leadership is given and I believe that leadership is present throughout our society. We only have to look at the outreach programmes of football, rugby and GAA.

This is especially important in schools, where such work has created the space for these sports to be played in schools not normally associated with them.

As various polls, including one in this newspaper earlier this year, showed, the outreach work has led to a softening of attitudes towards the various sports and people are more comfortable with their children playing these sports or at least being given the opportunity to sample them.

In the Interface Games, we used the concept of a 'game of three halves' - where the young people could try each of the three sports on offer.

This idea was developed several years ago by Paul Brown, youth convenor at Knock Presbyterian Church and is one way of helping to build relationships among young people

The great strength of sports people is that they love sport and care about it and they want those who participate in it to do well.

We should be showing our Olympians that we are proud of them and that the vast majority of people here celebrate their achievements whether they were competing under the Team GB or Team Ireland banner.

And let us not forget Rory and our other international golfers, who continue to be fantastic ambassadors for this part of the world.

We also look forward to the Paralympics which begin at the end of this month in London and all the competitors from Northern Ireland should also be recognised and applauded in any celebrations which are organised.

We have sports people here who perform at the highest level, bringing great credit not only to themselves but to all of us and we must reciprocate what they are doing for our reputation.

There has been so much good work carried out by people in sport throughout Northern Ireland and that work continues for the benefit of our entire society.

People like Peter Shaw of the Belfast Community Sports Development Network, council officers and sports organisations officials are allshowing us the way forward.

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