Sainsbury's AthleticsAthletics in Northern Ireland and across Britain got off to a good start in the new Year with news that Sainsbury’s is to extend its association with the sport for another four years.

The retail giant first got involved through a major sponsorship with the Paralympic Games in London 2012 and last year extended that to become a one year partner of the sports’ major event series that included the Anniversary Games at the London Olympic Stadium.

“Our involvement in the Paralympics Games and Sainsbury’s Summer Series has clearly showed the power that sport has to unite and inspire budding athletes of all ages and abilities,” said Justin King, Sainsbury’s CEO.

“Our partnership with British Athletics and support for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Para-athletic team is a natural way of building on our commitment to profile disability sport and encourage more active lifestyles – and perhaps we’re helping launch the stars of the future through the British Athletics talent and sport introduction days.”

As part of the combined sponsorship Paralympic athletics will also gain a higher profile through integration in some of the key events that will form part of the series.

The importance of this new sponsorship and the opportunities it provides to athletes to perform at the highest level will be something of a concern within Irish sport as preparations begin in earnest for a new Olympic and Paralympic cycle.

The next games in Rio take place in 2016 and before that the first European Games take place in Azerbaijan next year.

Ireland’s massive success at the 2012 games was driven in large part by athletes running for Ireland based out of Northern Ireland.  Young Paralympic swimmer Bethany Firth recently switched to compete under a team UK banner and care needs to be taken to ensure that that facilities available under one tradition in Northern Ireland do not overwhelm those available through competitive participation for Ireland.

UK Athletics switched from a single to a multiple partner approach to sponsorship last year when Aviva chose not to renew its overall partnership deal.  Sainsbury’s is now the fourth main partner to come on board alongside Nike, the National Lottery and the BBC.