Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memoranda submitted by the Sports Council for Northern Ireland



  Northern Ireland, unlike the other Home Countries and our European neighbours, has no outdoor stadium capable of hosting a multi-sports event at UK, European or World level.

  It has less than adequate facilities capable of hosting a single sport fixture as part of a major European or World tournament, e.g., Association Football, European Cup, Rugby European Championship or World Cup.

  Northern Ireland sport and its sportsmen and women lose the opportunity to compete against the best on home ground, and in front of a home audience. The aspiring young performer misses the opportunity to be inspired by the best.


  There is a major growth in UK and Europe in the development of multi-sport outdoor stadia to meet the needs of the growing European and Home Country leagues, Championships and Grand Prix events in Association Football, Athletics and Rugby.

  Northern Ireland, due to its population base, its national competition needs and due to the costs involved in providing and managing major spectator venues, cannot justify the provision of quality state-of-the-art stadia for each of its major team and spectator events.

  There is therefore a strong argument for the provision of a multi-event venue, capable of meeting the annual high level competition programme needs and providing the facility base to support major event bids. Such a provision might host a Belfast United Football Club and/or a Rugby Team Ulster. We need our "Wembley".

  Association Football, Rugby Football and Athletics have expressed a willingness to be involved and have identified the potential of such a provision.

  Ninety-four per cent of people believe Northern Ireland should have a National Stadium, (Belfast Telegraph survey—January 1999).


  In addition, a range of opportunities currently denied sport and the community in Northern Ireland would be opened up. These could include:

    —  bidding to host major single sport events or rounds/sections of major sports events, e.g., World Cup or European Cup Rugby, European Cup Soccer, Athletics Grand Prix meetings;

    —  able-bodied and disability multi-sports games at National or International level;

    —  Belfast City sports festivals;

    —  a tenancy arrangement for a soccer or rugby (or both) club playing in a super league (local, all Ireland, UK or European);

    —  an events facility for sports festivals rallies, etc., to put Belfast on the events circuit;

    —  a neutral venue/home for NI sport;

    —  regeneration and positive "Sports Tourism" economic benefits.


    —  There are no firm bids on the table and no finance identified from any source.

    —  A tentative offer of land on the Belfast Lough foreshore has been made via Lord Dubs on behalf of the Department of the Environment.

    —  A tentative relocation plan for the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society from the Kings Hall site, Belfast, to Tillisburn currently proposes a stadium.


  Sport at Irish, UK and European level is on the move. New competitions and new activities along with a new approach to traditional events is beginning to reshape the international sports calendar. Cheap, frequent and quick transportation is opening up the island of Ireland, the UK and Europe for both performers and spectators and already the two hour catchment can include parts of England and Scotland and most of the population of Ireland. The style and quality of the events offered will be the determining factor for spectators and the quality and capacity of the venue will decide the location of events for the promoters of European stadium sports and events.

  Northern Ireland must become part of the scene or lose its place in World Sport.

  A stadium is key to future international participation and significant government funding is key to its provision.

2 February 1999



  1.1 In a general sense, sport is great news for Northern Ireland:

    (i)  80 per cent of people in Northern Ireland believe sport can build positive links between people of different communities.

    (ii)  80 per cent of people believe sport to be a positive social force.

    (iii)  Sport provides jobs for 12,500 people—more than either banking or finance.

    (iv)  People involved in sport are fitter and make fewer costly demands on the Health Service.

    (v)  Sport projects in Northern Ireland have helped to enhance our social cohesion, economy, international reputation, and health.

    (vi)  Northern Ireland's Strategy for the Development of Sport places volunteers at the centre of our rationale for investment and was Europe's first strategy developed and owned by all sectors involved in sporting provision. Sport based on volunteerism admirably meets the objectives of Government's "Giving Age" initiative.


  To make its impact and to achieve its vision, Sport in Northern Ireland requires funding on an equitable basis with the rest of the UK. The present funding framework, which generates 2.8 per cent of UK resources for Northern Ireland—a population-related figure—completely fails to recognise that the fixed costs of providing sport in Northern Ireland are not comparable with those in England, Scotland and Wales.

  The funding formulae does not provide an adequate funding threshold for sport. It makes no allowance for need and fails to recognise the absence of any economy of scale.

  The sports funding issue is further compounded by the absence of any capital budget to adequately address the major facility needs of the Province.

  Unlike charities, Heritage, New Opportunities and Millennium, which have needs-based formulae, the Lottery Sports Fund is based on the inadequate 2.8 per cent formula and provides Northern Ireland with £6 million per annum, a significant element of which is predetermined to meet government commitments.

3 February 1999



  1. Sport, in the main, requires the provision of facilities, some dedicated, others generic: provision depends on initial capital funding.

  2. Capital funding was until recently the responsibility of DENI. In the period 1974-97, this funding amounted to £51,661,000. The peak annual budget was £8,008,000 in 1982-83. This funding in the main supported the provision of District Council Community Leisure Centres.

  3. No capital funding was identified to support the provision of Regional or "National" Sports Centres, and no national training or major competition facilities were provided.

  4. The Lottery is now available providing £4 million per annum on a non solicited/challenge basis. However, Lottery funds are required to address needs across all sports and across all areas of the Province. It currently holds applications for in excess of £20 million. It is further required to fund the United Kingdom Sports Institute (UKSI) (NI) capital development at £6 million and to assist the funding of the UKSI UK capital in Sheffield.

  5. On 1 April 1994, DENI's remit towards capital sports funding was passed to the Sports Council for Northern Ireland: a meagre £100,000 budget passed with it.


  6. Problems can be identified as follows:

    (i)  No seed funding available to encourage provision.

    (ii)  "National" provision is not a district function: a central resource is required to maximise opportunity, for example, a district requires a 25m pool: "national" need is for a 50m pool—however no resource exists to provide additional funding to enhance the district facility and the opportunity is lost.

    (iii)  No budget, hence, no planning is possible. This effects control to the detriment of the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of provision.

    (iv)  The advent of the UKSI has highlighted the dearth of quality national training facilities in Northern Ireland. These are already abundant in Great Britain.

    (v)  Safety in Sports Grounds—compliance costs to meet proposed minimum standards is estimated (based on the Government's own figures) to be in excess of £20 million. WHERE WILL THIS COME FROM?

    (vi)  The stock of District Council facilities created in the late 1970's/early 1980's is ageing and already requires upgrading. The absence of support funding removes the opportunity to enhance facilities which meet the long-term aspirations contained within the Strategy for the Development of Sport in Northern Ireland.


  7. Former capital funding and current Lottery funding have established a strong community sport and recreation foundation.

  8. The talent identified by, and groomed through, this provision deserves an equal opportunity with their counterparts in Great Britain to be developed to their full potential. Capital facilities are required to meet this need.

  9. The UKSI (NI) and facilities identified in the Northern Ireland Sports Facilities shopping list can provide such opportunities, the impediment is not talent or commitment—it is financial.

  10. A capital budget needs to be reinstated if Northern Ireland sport is to prosper, and if Northern Ireland is to avoid becoming a sporting backwater.

3 February 1999

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