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Need to empower local athletes to aim for Olympic Gold – McElduff

5 August, 2008 - by Barry McElduff

West Tyrone Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff has called for major investment in a number of sports facilities in Co Tyrone so that local athletes can aim for Olympic Gold.

Mr McElduff, who chairs the scrutiny committee for sport at the Assembly has written to the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Gregory Campbell and to the Chief Executive of Sport NI, Mr Eamonn McCartan to ensure that more Performer Development Centres can be established in the North, including the county of Tyrone to increase the quantity and quality of athletes entering Ireland's high performance system.

The Sinn Fein MLA pointed out that the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) in the North could potentially be missing out on local talent by ignoring many areas and facilities which could be used to assist local athletes in reaching the highest possible performance level. He said that areas West of the Bann do not seem to feature adequately in strategic planning for the future.

In the past month, Mr McElduff met with the Olympic Council of Ireland and with the Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Sport, Mr Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher TD in Dublin to discuss Ireland's preparations for the Olympics. Just last week, Mr McElduff visited the 'highly impressive' Sports Institute at Jordanstown and he commended both DCAL and Sport NI for the excellent work which is taking place there aimed at helping athletes and coaches to reach elite performance levels.

However, the MLA referred to an advertisement which was published by Sport NI in June of this year which called for expressions of interest for local Performance Developer Centres. Sport NI in its advertisement called for 'expressions of interest from potential partners in the Greater Belfast, Lisburn and Mid-Ulster areas' who wished to become involved in the development of specialist training centres to support local athletes.

Interested parties were asked to meet various criteria including: Appropriate physical space for a strength and conditioning suite (min 150 sq m); Experience in facility management, including the management of operational programmes and staff; and have an understanding and commitment to high performance sport.

As someone who is very enthusiastic about sport and as someone who would like to encourage young people aiming for Olympic Gold in the future, I can point to any number of facilities in Co Tyrone which meet the necessary standards and are worthy of greater investment to assist local athletes. These include the 8-Lane international standard, floodlit running track at Youth Sport Omagh, the Mid-Ulster Sports Arena in Cookstown and the soon-to-be refurbished Omagh Leisure Complex.

Omagh District Council is in the process of building a £2.5 million state of the art fitness suite with full cardio and resistance equipment which will be capable of servicing high performers for strength and conditioning training.

I have spoken to legendary Clonoe boxing coach Frank Girvan and other leading sporting coaches in the county and they too believe that Co Tyrone is well placed for this type of sporting investment. So far, however, the sports authorities in the north have largely ignored Tyrone's potential and this is inexcusable as far as I am concerned.

Speaking ahead of this week's Olympic Games in Beijing, Mr McElduff praised those Irish athletes who have qualified and he hoped that some of the athletes, boxers, cyclists or rowers can be in the final shake up for medals later this month. He also said that Sport NI in the North and the Sports Council for Ireland should work closer together to learn the lessons of Beijing so as to inform the strategy for London 2012.


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