Deadline looms for Commonwealth Youth Games funding

Belfast was announced at host city for the Commonwealth Youth Games in February 2016. 
Pictured at the launch were Louise Martin, president of Commonwealth Games Federation with Dame Mary Peters, Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson, 
with two of the Northern Ireland athletes Stephen Hearst (squash) and Rachel Bethel (swimming) from Team NI in Samoa 2015
Belfast was announced at host city for the Commonwealth Youth Games in February 2016. Pictured at the launch were Louise Martin, president of Commonwealth Games Federation with Dame Mary Peters, Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson, with two of the Northern Ireland athletes Stephen Hearst (squash) and Rachel Bethel (swimming) from Team NI in Samoa 2015

Politicians have one week to rescue Belfast’s bid to host the next Commonwealth Youth Games.

The Bahamas, hosts of the 2017 games, are due to officially hand over the reins to Northern Ireland at the closing ceremony on July 23.

But the Province’s bid to host the 2021 games could be in jeopardy, as Stormont has not yet signed off on the £2.5m funding package required for the project.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning Executive since the power-sharing institutions collapsed in January.

And the Department of the Economy is unwilling to release the necessary funds, saying it does not demonstrate “value for money”.

With funding for the project stuck in limbo, Louise Martin, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, has warned that funds must be made available by Friday, June 29 to allow the handover ceremony to take place.

She claimed that if the deadline was not met, Northern Ireland would miss out on the handover element of the ceremony, but it would not determine whether they would still hold the games.

In a bid to salvage the project, Ms Martin attended a meeting with NI’s five main political parties in Belfast on Tuesday. Officials from the Department of the Economy were not in attendance at the meeting.

Ciaran Kearney, executive manager of the NI Sports Forum, did attend the meeting and said he is hopeful that the funding required for the handover ceremony – thought to be in the region of £30,000 – can be secured before the deadline.

He told the News Letter: “We had a very positive meeting and representatives from the main parties all spoke in favour of finding a solution to resolve this issue ASAP.

“It was disappointing that officials from the department chose not to attend, but we hope to engage with the acting head of the Civil Service to get these funds released in time.”

UUP leader Robin Swann said he has written to officials to “try and remove the blockage”.

He added: “This is an intolerable situation given that the five main parties have twice voted in the Assembly to support a bid to host the Youth Games.

“The embarrassment and reputational damage that would be caused by losing the right to hold the games would be massive and precisely the wrong type of message to be sending out.”

SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said: “This is the opportunity to inspire a generation. We must find a way to support the ambition of young athletes.”