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Budget cuts to Sport NI begin to bite for Olympic medallists Paddy Barnes, Kelly Gallagher and Michael Conlan

Feeling the pinch: Paddy Barnes’ funding may be cut
Feeling the pinch: Paddy Barnes’ funding may be cut

By Steven Beacom

Budget cuts to Sport NI are starting to hit some of the country's most popular sports stars.

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last year that Sport NI, the leading public body for the development of sport here, was losing a whopping 11.2 per cent of its budget, amounting to a loss of around £1m in 2015.

As a consequence 23 funded athletes are now losing out on a 'living cost award' which offers financial aid for living costs such as phone and heating bills.

There are some big hitters on the list in every sense, who previously in Sport NI's Athlete Investment programme were assisted with "essential living costs to allow them to train on a part-time or full-time basis."

They include Olympic medallists Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan, Winter Paralympics gold medal winner Kelly Gallagher and sailors Matthew McGovern and Ryan Seaton, who are set to compete in next year's Olympics.

Sport NI say they will review the situation later this year.

A Sport NI statement read: "Based on indicative budgets approved by DCAL, Sport NI has allocated 60 per cent (£600,800) of the planned budget of the Athlete Investment Programme (AIP) to Governing Bodies at this time and intends to review the situation later in the year.

"In the past, under AIP, Sport NI offered "sports costs awards" to Governing Bodies and "living cost awards" directly to athletes.

"Sports costs awards were allocated to the Governing Body and were used to offset competition and training costs, while living cost awards were paid directly to athletes as a contribution towards essential living costs.

"In 2015-16, Sport NI made one award to Governing Bodies under the heading of sports costs. There will no longer be a separate award made directly to athletes for living costs. However, Sport NI is offering flexibility to Governing Bodies in what they claim for under sports costs."

Sport NI has been the subject of much controversy this year. Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown has been suspended since March due to 'leadership issues' and nine members of the Sport NI board recently resigned. This led to Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin sending in senior civil servant Arthur Scott to investigate the troubled organisation and effectively take control on a caretaker basis.

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