Northern Ireland has lost its chance to host the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games after failing to get funding for the event.
The collapse of the power-sharing government at Stormont 18 months ago meant funding for the games was never signed off.
The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) said it had learned the Head of the Civil Service David Sterling decided that funding for the games would not be approved.
A NICGC spokesperson said the 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.
It is understood David Sterling said the games did not represent value for money for Northern Ireland.
David Sterling, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service (Niall Carson/PA)
The NICGC spokesperson added: “To our young people, we can only apologise for the behaviour of your elders in positions of influence. They have let you down on this occasion.”
Northern Ireland Sports Forum (NISF) chairperson Richard Johnson said: “NISF has worked very closely with the NI Commonwealth Games Council over the past two years to ensure preparations for 2021 would not be hampered due to funding concerns.
“The time has now come however for the Commonwealth Games Federation to ensure that the 2021 Youth Games is safeguarded and will now re-open the bidding process to secure a new host.”
Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt, Chair of the All Party Group on Sport and Recreation, said he was “deeply sorry”
“Ultimately, this is about political failure,” he said.
“No one can be in any doubt the support was there for staging these Games, as evidenced by the unanimous backing when the idea was debated in the Assembly.
“Had there been an Executive, I am entirely confident the funds would have been approved.
“So, the Commonwealth Youth Games becomes the latest victim of our collective inability to find a way to share this piece of planet Earth, with the consequent reputational damage for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom.”
UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt
A spokeswoman for the Department for the Economy said: “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.”
A UK government spokesman said: “We share the disappointment that Commonwealth Youth Games will not take place in Belfast in 2021. This is why we need to secure a restoration of the devolved institutions.
“We are focused on restoring a democratically accountable devolved government, so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital