Commonwealth bid ‘at risk over funding’

The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) announced Belfast as host city for the next Commonwealth Youth Games last year
The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) announced Belfast as host city for the next Commonwealth Youth Games last year

Northern Ireland will miss out on hosting the Commonwealth Youth Games over funding unless an Executive can be formed to overturn the decision of civil servants.

Belfast was confirmed as the host for the 2021 Games in February last year but, with funding still to be signed off and no prospect of an Assembly forming to do so, it has now been confirmed Belfast will play no part in any official handover during the closing ceremony of the 2017 games in the Bahamas on Sunday.

Conal Heatley, executive officer of the NI Commonwealth Games Council, said Belfast could still be stripped of the honour of hosting the games altogether if funding is not secured.

The Department of the Economy says it cannot “commit to funding this event” because “it does not demonstrate value for money”.

Mr Heatley, however, has said that a Stormont minister would be able to overturn that decision. In the absence of a functioning Assembly, however, no ministers are in place to do so.

Mr Heatley said: “We have done everything that we possibly can and now it’s over to others to guarantee the funding.”

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle expressed his disappointment that Northern Ireland won’t be taking part in the official handover.

He said: “It is unacceptable this situation has been allowed to develop.”

Mr Heatley described it as “a hugely missed opportunity”.

He added: “Durban was due to host the senior Commonwealth Games in 2022 but they were stripped of that over funding. Now, that’s the senior games which are much bigger and so much more high profile, so if they can do that there is no reason why they can’t do it with the Youth Games.”

Durban in South Africa was awarded the games in September 2015 and was due to be the first African city to host the event until David Grevemberg, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, said in March that the city did not meet the criteria set by his organisation and would no longer be hosting the games in 2022.

A spokesperson for the Department of the Economy, asked about the current situation, said: “Officials have been unable to commit to funding this event as, despite the best efforts of all involved, it has not been possible to approve the business case because it does not demonstrate value for money.”

However, Mr Heatley believes the benefits of hosting the Games here go beyond any economic benefits.

He said: “The example I would use is, and I know this sounds harsh, care for the elderly. Care for the elderly doesn’t make economic sense but we still do it because it has other benefits.

“If this was before the whole Assembly, the benefits to communities for our young athletes could be decided on more than just financial terms.”