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New Sports Minister Paul Givan plans to resolve key issues at Sport NI

By Steven Beacom

New Sports Minister Paul Givan has outlined his intent to resolve outstanding issues at Sport NI.

Chief Executive of the publicly funded organisation Antoinette McKeown has been suspended for over a year and in April chairman Brian Henning departed, claiming in an interview with this newspaper that he had received a 'resign or I'll sack you' ultimatum at a meeting with the then Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

This followed nine of the 14 board members resigning last year from Sport NI, which continues to endeavour to promote sporting activities across the country.

DUP man Givan, who last week was appointed Minister for the newly formed Department for Communities, of which sport in Northern Ireland is a key area, has already held discussions with his officials regarding Sport NI and plans a meeting with interim chairman Brian Delaney.

"There are issues for me to deal with in terms of sport and Sport NI," said Mr Givan in the second part of his exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph. "There's an interim executive team that is involved in terms of taking forward the recommendations that came about from the report into Sport NI. It was a comprehensive report with 116 recommendations so there's a challenge there for that transformation to take place.

"Obviously I want Sport NI to be delivering for sport and whenever there's a distraction around employment issues and things like this, I want the focus to be on the grassroots and the development of our sporting infrastructure and the sports stars.

"I want that to be resolved and the focus to be put on where I want it to be because I'll be depending on Sport NI to deliver on my priorities.

"There's a travel of direction that is improving in terms of where we're going with Sport NI and obviously I want that to continue.

"Whenever these things take place in any kind of organisation they never look helpful. My focus is on having an organisation that will be able to deliver for sport."

While addressing that issue in the short term, the new Minister has long term ideas to bring more big sporting events to Northern Ireland following on from the Giro d'Italia in 2014 and The Open Championship set for Royal Portrush in 2019.

"The 2023 Rugby World Cup is a very significant tournament and if we were able to secure it, it's being taken forward on a north/south dimension," he said.

"That would be a massive event to take place. Around events that we already attract to Northern Ireland, Tourism NI tend to take the lead in terms of actually making bids for them.

"We've had the success of the Giro d'Italia and you look at the Tour de France.

"The starting stage of it has taken place within the United Kingdom already.

"Now, is that an event we could maybe be making a bid for given the success of cycling in Northern Ireland?"

Another issue on the agenda is motorcycling safety. There has been much debate about the sport following the death of young English rider Malachi Mitchell-Thomas at the North West 200.

"Northern Ireland has a great affinity with motorsport be it two wheels or four," said the Sports Minister, who when a Lisburn Councillor was key in handing over significant financial support to the Ulster Grand Prix.

"Motorcycling has a huge following and I am really interested in the safety aspect of the sport and engaging with officials to try and help in any way I can."

Belfast Telegraph


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