The continuing political impasse in Northern Ireland has cost Belfast from hosting the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games.
The games which would have attracted 2,000 athletes from around the world was awarded to the city in February 2016 but on Friday it was announced by the Commonwealth Games Federation that the offer to host the Games was being withdrawn and a new bid process opened up.
The decision hinges on funding of £3 Million which had been promised politically but not signed off prior to the collapse of the Stormont Assembly in January 2017.
Subsequent review by the Department of the Economy has failed to gain approval for the expenditure with a statement released on Friday saying that “The business case for hosting the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games has been through a lengthy approval process on two separate occasions and on each occasion it has been concluded that funding for the event does not represent value for money.”
“The application for funding the event has been appraised on the same basis as other major sporting events promoted by the Executive.”
“There were significant concerns about affordability, limited monetary benefit and insufficient evidence of non-monetary benefits.”
“While this is a disappointing outcome for the NI Commonwealth Youth Games Council, without a clear demonstration of value for money there is no basis for an accounting officer to offer financial support for the Games unless they were formally directed to do so by their Minister.”
“This means that the Department for the Economy will not be in a position to fund the proposal for the games to be held in Northern Ireland.”
The funding of major events often relies on political will in order to ‘monetise’ the goodwill benefits and without that in place it was always likely to be an uphill battle.
Belfast did not take part in a handover ceremony after the 2017 Games were held in the Bahama’s due to uncertainty over the funding though it had been hoped throughout that a solution would be found.
A statement issued by the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council on Friday pulls no punches.
“The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council is disappointed to learn that the Head of the Civil Service has announced that funding will not be provided to host the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games in Belfast.”
“This decision is a slap in the face for our young people.”
“The Youth Games would have brought nearly 2,000 of the world’s finest young athletes to Northern Ireland to compete in more than 20 sports.”
“A legacy plan involving sport, volunteering, culture, integration, social cohesion, education and health has been discarded.”
“This project was originally discussed with stakeholders in November 2014 and received unanimous cross-party support during two Assembly debates before the Games were awarded to Belfast in February 2016.”
“David Sterling [head of Northern Ireland Civil Service] says that the business case developed by Tourism NI does not represent ‘value for money’.”
“He takes this view based upon information provided by Tourism NI and the Department for the Economy.”
“Both organisations have repeatedly refused to share the business case with stakeholders, including Belfast City Council and the Commonwealth Games Council.”
“This is hardly a classic example of transparency and accountability within Government and the decision making sends a strong message to the international community that Northern Ireland is closed for business.”
“Many questions remain unanswered and we shall be pursuing these over the coming days.”
“In the meantime, the NICGC would like to thank all those who have supported this project, especially the NI Sports Forum and our member governing bodies for sport.”
The Commonwealth Games Federation has said that Belfast can bid once more as part of the new process but without a political solution in place that appears very unlikely.