Northern Ireland hosting the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games will help rebuild a peaceful community in a region plagued with political issues in the past, Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) President Louise Martin claimed here today.
The country was at the centre of a prolonged period of violence as a result of religious and political hatred, with over 3,600 lives thought to have been lost between 1968 and 1998.
Capital city Belfast, which will be the focal point of the 2021 Youth Games, has made great progress in this area after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, which brought the most turbulent period in the country's history to an end.
The Troubles largely centred on a split in political views between the Nationalists, who believe in a united Ireland, and the Unionists, who want Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom.
Ireland was partitioned into two autonomous regions, Northern and Southern, in 1921.
“It dovetails nicely into our Transformation 2022 - peaceful communities which can be brought back together again and build the community spirit," Martin said.
"This is one of the other things that sold it to us.”
Martin was speaking at an event to officially announce Northern Ireland as hosts of the Games in five years’ time following the CGF unanimously voting to give the country the competition during its Executive Board meeting in Gibraltar last week.
At the same meeting, Bahamas was selected to host the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games.
The special event here was attended by a host of guests and dignitaries including Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) patron Dame Mary Peters, gold medallist in the pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, and a range of Northern Irish athletes, some of whom competed at the 2015 Youth Games in Samoa last September.
The event featured speeches from Martin and Peters, considered one of the country’s greatest-ever athletes, as well as NICGC chairman Robert McVeigh.
"I have no doubt your vision to support the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games will deliver a festival of sporting excellence that will leave a lasting legacy, respect and reflect your ambitions and culture, and involve and inspire your communities and young people," the CGF President said.
Northern Ireland being awarded the event came after Jersey and Botswana both withdrew their respective attempts at staging the Youth Games, paving the way for them to secure the rights to the competition, largely owing to the strength of the presentation given by the NICGC to the CGF.
insidethegames was told that around 18 sports were given as options to be a part of the programme in 2021 to the CGF, though that could be cut to nine, with athletics and swimming the only two core sports.
The official programme for the event is due to be confirmed at the CGF's General Assembly in Edmonton in Canada in October.
Belfast’s Mary Peters Track could be used to stage athletics, while Bangor’s Aurora pool has reportedly been earmarked as a potential venue for swimming.
Martin, one of the driving forces behind the inaugural Commonwealth Youth Games in Edinburgh in 2000, says the CGF were “very impressed” by Northern Ireland’s "second to none" bid but expects Botswana and Jersey to “come back again”.
“Jersey decided they would pull out once they saw Northern Ireland’s presentation and what they were up against,” the Scot said.
“But they will come back again – so will Botswana and Gibraltar also want the Youth Games.
“I would like to get a list of countries together so that we can take a city and work with them to be able to deliver the Games and to take them all over the Commonwealth.”