Belfast Telegraph

Stormont warned to act fast or lose Commonwealth Youth Games

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland will miss out on hosting one of sport’s biggest global youth events unless the Northern Ireland Executive act quickly, it has been warned.

The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) is determined to bring the Commonwealth Youth Games to Belfast in 2021, confident that the city has the infrastructure and venues to stage a competition with a history of showcasing sporting stars of the future.

In the past, Northern Ireland boxing heroes Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan have taken part in the Commonwealth Youth Games, as has Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill, who claimed heptathlon gold over the weekend at the World Athletics Championships in the heptathlon, and three-time world champion gymnast Beth Tweddle.

The NICGC need to submit a bid before the end of September, but need approval from Stormont to do so with the cost of hosting the Games expected to be around £3.7million.

Should the go-ahead be given, Northern Ireland would face a battle with African nation Botswana to stage the multi-sport event in which 1,000 athletes aged between 14 and 18 compete.

Conal Heatley, Executive Officer of the NICGC, was hoping to have heard news from the Northern Ireland Executive this week before travelling to Auckland tomorrow for the Commonwealth Games Federation General Assembly, where officials of the 71 Commonwealth countries meet and discuss pressing issues.

He said: “At the Assembly I have no doubt we will be asked how our bid is coming along, but we won’t be able to say anything.

“We need some form of approval from government to go ahead with the bid but have no information on that at this stage.

“If we don’t get it quickly, our opportunity to stage what is a wonderful, inspiring sporting event will be lost.”

Heatley added: "The deadline for bids was originally at the end of July, but Games organisers have extended that to the end of September.

"We believe that Northern Ireland has a really solid chance of winning the bid for the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games. It is us against Botswana. We feel we have the facilities, we have the governing bodies and we have the people to deliver it."

When the Northern Ireland Executive are deciding on which sports events to support, two major elements which are considered are the number of visitors that can be attracted and the global publicity generated, hence the reasons for helping to fund cycling's Giro d'Italia and golf's Irish Open coming here in recent years.

Heatley, who praised Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and Sport NI for their support in the process, said: "The Commonwealth Youth Games would provide a massive profile for Northern Ireland and bring in many visitors for tourism from markets like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which isn't normally the case.

"I also feel the Games would be inspirational for our youngsters to see teenagers producing incredible sporting performances. When you look at some of those who have competed before, you know you are watching future greats. Come 2021, the people of Northern Ireland could be cheering on the next Usain Bolt."

The 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games take place in Samoa from September 5-11. Northern Ireland are sending a team of 17 competing in swimming, athletics, boxing, lawn bowls and squash.

Northern Ireland's boxers are currently in a camp at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, while the swimmers are racing at the World Junior Championships in Singapore. They include 15-year-old Conor Ferguson, who yesterday broke the Irish Junior 100m backstroke record twice, the best of which was 55.60 seconds.

Belfast Telegraph

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