Northern Ireland

Smaller sports call ground upgrade cash move 'unfair'

Windsor Park in Belfast
Image caption Windsor Park stages the Northern Ireland football team's home matches

Some sports that have missed out on money for ground and stadia upgrades have said the distribution of the £138m was unfair.

On Friday Sports Minister Nelson McCausland announced that football and Gaelic games would both get over £61m, rugby will receive just under £15m.

Eamon Christie, Athletics Ireland Coach of the Year, said the money could have been divided more fairly.

"I don't disagree with other sports' needs, it's just the amount," he said.

"The Mary Peters athletic track has been in desperate need of an upgrade for the past 10 years and we only needed about £1m.

"I don't doubt the popularity of the other sports but maybe if we had the investment they did we could produce talent that would increase the popularity of athletics."


The Irish Football Association (IFA) received £25m to upgrade Windsor Park plus an additional £36m to improve some other stadia and set up a new national training centre.

The Ulster Council of the GAA will get a similar sum to help make Casement Park a 40,000 all-seated stadium.

There will be £14.7m to enable Ulster Rugby to build new and upgrade existing stands at Ravenhill.

IFA Chief executive, Patrick Nelson, said it was a great day for football.

"We have been working with the minister and the sports department to look at making Windsor Park fit for purpose.

"It has been in need of work for some time and we want it to be a showcase for Northern Ireland to the world.

"Football is the most popular sport and this money will make the difference at club level as well."

Image caption Antrim footballers and hurlers play at Casement Park

George Stephenson from the Ulster Branch of Tennis Ireland said he was against so much money being spent on facilities.

"This money is going on spectator sports and not participation, this is for people to watch a game and eat a burger from a stand," he said.

"We don't even have an indoor training facility and we were looking for less than £3m."

Speaking on Friday Mr McCausland said he was pleased with the distribution throughout all sports.

"The money has been set aside for upgrades and the need has been identified as part of a long term project," he added.

He also said the development would benefit health, tourism, the construction industry and the Northern Ireland economy.

Ring fenced

"Modern, fit-for-purpose and spectator-friendly stadium facilities can only enhance the sports' standing and will assist the development of the three sports from grassroots right up to international levels," said McCausland.

The announcement of the financial package for the three sports had been delayed because of worries over the way the Irish Football Association was being run.

Eamon Mac Con Midhe, chairman of Down District Council's recreation and community services committee, said the move was extremely disappointing.

Mr Mac Con Midhe, who was also involved in the project for Ireland's first velodrome in Downpatrick, said he had been told money for the velodrome had been ring fenced.

"This is a neutral sport and would've been an all Ireland venue.

"We had won the bid process at every stage so it's hard to understand this."

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