SEPTEMBER 10 - A TOP official in Northern Ireland has claimed that the Province could stage matches in the Olympic football tournament in 2012 if a decision is made on building a new national stadium within the next month.


Dominic Walsh, the chairman of the Government agency Sport Northern Ireland, said that the London Games have created a sense of excitement that the country needs to tap in to and build upon.


He said that this included hosting international events, something he warned was not possible with the current facilities there are in Northern Ireland.


Writing in an article published in today's edition of the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "Northern Ireland will never be able to attract significant sporting events without a suitable sporting infrastructure.


"This infrastructure needs to include a stadium and it is imperative that a decision is made on a stadium as soon as possible.


"If a decision was made in the next month we could have a stadium in time for 2012 allowing Northern Ireland to be an integral part of 2012 in terms of hosting some of the 2012 Olympic football matches.


"How amazing would it be to bring the Olympics right to our doorstep!"


Along with Cardiff, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle, Belfast is due to host matches during the men and women's football tournaments in 2012 but only if it builds a stadium in time to stage them.


Controversial plans to build a new stadium on the site of the former Maze Prison near Lisburn have split the sports community in Northern Ireland, including supporters of the country's football team who want the home to be sited in Belfast, and the project is currently bogged down in political rows.


Junior Minister Jeffrey Donaldson, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party said last month the the 2012 Games could have provided Northern Ireland with a unique economic opportunity, but because of the delays over the Maze stadium, it would miss out on the opportunity of staging matches.


Walsh also wants the Government to invest more in helping funding elite athletes in the build-up to London 2012.


He wrote: "It is our aspiration to have a high performance system in place but to do this we require adequate levels of Government funding to secure world class services, coaches and also facilities.


"Remember that the required average investment for a single gold medal is around £2.5 million."


A new £15 million Sports Institute Northern Ireland was recently completed at the University of Ulster and two medallists from the Province won medals in Beijing.


Cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel was runner-up to Rebecca Romero in the individual pursuit and boxer Paddy Barnes won a medal in the light flyweight category, although he was competing for Ireland.


An athlete from Northern Ireland has not won an individual Olympic gold medal since Mary Peters claimed the pentathlon title at the 1972 Games in Munich, although Jimmy Kirkwood and Stephen Martin were part of the British hockey team that lifted the title in Seoul in 1988.


Walsh said: "It is all our responsibilities to develop the indigenous talent of Northern Ireland but without proper investment this won’t be possible.


"We've got to put the network in place in terms of funding for facilities and the best coaching so that people who are inspired by sport stay in sport."


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