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Editor's Viewpoint

Halting the bid for a Northern Ireland Sports Museum is a missed opportunity



Nigel Carr

Nigel Carr

Nigel Carr

For a country whose population has never exceeded 1.8 million, Northern Ireland has always punched above its weight in sporting prowess.

George Best, Joey Dunlop, Alex Higgins, Jack Kyle and Margaret Johnston are just some of the people from this small corner of the world to leave an indelible stamp on their sport.

For 20 years, a committee of leading figures has been campaigning tirelessly for a Northern Ireland Sports Museum to celebrate their achievements.

But, as we reveal today, they have now been forced to concede defeat.

In spite of many pledges of support and offers of historic sporting exhibits, lack of financial commitment from government has led them to call it a day.

Olympic pentathlon gold medallist Lady Mary Peters and former Ireland and Lions rugby international Nigel Carr are among those who have been toiling behind the scenes to create a lasting memorial to our sports men and women.

Seventy leading sports personalities had offered to become patrons of the museum, which was intended to build on the success of a travelling sports exhibition which was visited by 120,000 people across 30 locations some years ago.

But in spite of the support of National Museums and Galleries and the Belfast's City Deal's inclusion of "the role of sport and sporting heroes" in their Destination Hub proposals, core government funding failed to materialise.

No one doubts that Stormont's budgets are under immense pressure.

Making the health service fit for purpose and rebooting our retail and hospitality sectors will be the Executive's priorities - and rightly so.

But a Northern Ireland Sports Museum has the potential to greatly enhance the province's tourism offering for relatively little outlay.

We have witnessed the runaway success of Titanic Belfast, which saw almost a million visitors a year through its doors before coronavirus brought everything crashing to a halt.

Just imagine what a museum celebrating the achievements of Willie John McBride, Pat Jennings, Harry Gregg, Jonathan Rea - and Lady Mary herself - could do for our tourist economy.

Compared to the cost of reconstruction post-pandemic, the project could be delivered for, in government terms, back-of-the-sofa money.

Nigel Carr says he and the other campaigners are happy if someone else comes in to pick up the baton, even as they leave the field.

Is it too much to hope that, even at this late stage of the game, Sports Minister Deirdre Hargey has a rummage down the back of the departmental sofa?

Belfast Telegraph