Northern Ireland

NI could lose 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games

Commonwealth Youth Games
Image caption Belfast is due to be handed the Games at the closing ceremony of the Bahamas Games on 23 July

The Commonwealth Youth Games may not come to Northern Ireland in 2021 because of the collapse of Stormont, the BBC understands.

Belfast is due to be handed the games at the closing ceremony of the Bahamas Games on 23 July.

However, the business case was not signed off by the Northern Ireland Executive.

A meeting will be held on Tuesday to see if the Games can be saved.

The DUP has said that due to "Sinn Féin collapsing the assembly this project is unable to proceed".

Sinn Féin has blamed the collapse of Stormont on both the DUP and the British government.

Value for money?

About 1,000 young athletes are due to take part in the Games and it would have been a landmark event for Northern Ireland's centenary year.

Sports stars like Carl Frampton, Michael Conlon, Jessica Ennis Hill, Beth Tweddle and Louis Smith have all taken part in previous events.

The hosting rights were awarded to Northern Ireland in February 2016.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Carl Frampton is among those who have taken part in previous Games

The business case for funding has been with the department of the economy, but was not approved by the former DUP economy minister Simon Hamilton and brought to the executive table.

The department said the games were not "value for money", but the BBC understands that ministers could still have approved the project if it had been discussed, and backed, by the Executive.

The BBC has seen a letter from Roy Millar MBE - former head coach of the Northern Ireland national under-21 football team - which was distributed among sporting organisations in Northern Ireland saying the games were now in "grave danger".

Image caption The BBC has obtained a copy of a letter which says the games are in 'grave danger'

"Failure to hold on to these games will have serious implications for Northern Ireland's global reputation and may adversely impact future bids for other international sporting events with further local ramifications likely," he writes.

The president of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Louise Martin, and David Grevernberg, the federation's chief executive, will both be in Belfast for the meeting on Tuesday.

'Wonderful opportunity'

Ciaran Kearney from the Northern Ireland Sports Forum has said there is still a window of opportunity to save the Games.

"We're hoping that on Tuesday we'll be able to come to a resolution," he said.

Image caption Ciaran Kearney said there was still a window of opportunity to save the Games

"We don't want to go down the route of losing the Games, we still hope and we still expect that the Games will go ahead.

"The Games would be a wonderful opportunity to inspire our young athletes and give them something to work towards."

The DUP had made a commitment to Commonwealth sporting events in their most recent Westminster manifesto.

It stated: "Northern Ireland should seek to host Commonwealth political and sporting events."

A DUP spokesperson said: "As a result of Sinn Fein collapsing the Assembly, subsequent elections and the talks process, this project has been unable to proceed.

"Minister Hamilton, who was the then minister, could not approve funding for the Commonwealth Games."

A spokesperson for the Department for the Economy 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.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Former economy minister Simon Hamilton was unable to sign off on the Games

"The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) will be proceeding at its own risk in the event that it opts to accept the hosting rights without confirmation of support."

A spokesperson for the Commonwealth Games Federation said: "The Belfast 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games will be a proud and inspiring opportunity to put the Commonwealth's finest young athletes and Northern Ireland's ambitious sporting fraternity on the global sporting stage.

"With over four years to go, we're optimistic that all partners will come together to realise their shared legacy ambitions for this special event."

A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: "Martin McGuinness brought an end to the arrogance of the DUP in the midst of allegations of corruption and the RHI financial scandal.

"He also took a stand against their disrespect and discrimination to certain sections of our society including the Irish language community, the LGB and T communities and ethnic minorities.

"Both the DUP and the British government know what is required in order to get the institutions back up but so far they have displayed no political will to enable that happening."