Belfast loses Commonwealth Youth Games after failing to get Government funding

Belfast will no longer host the Commonwealth Youth Games after organisers failed to secure government funding for the event.

The city had been selected as host for the 2021 event but was never able to obtain Stormont sign-off to stump up the £3 million required to pay for it.

Two business cases compiled in 2015 and 2016 were deemed by tourism and economy officials not to provide value for public money.

As such, any decision to proceed with hosting the games would have required the approval of an elected minister.

While the powersharing impasse has hampered efforts to secure that in the last 18 months, it is unclear whether the green light would have been granted even if the executive had been in operation, given no ministerial signature was forthcoming when it was up and running.

Northern Ireland's rudderless public services are currently being run by the civil service.

Head of the service David Sterling declined to approve the funds and a call for the UK government to step in and approve the spending was also turned down.

The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council (NICGC) said it was "disappointed" at the failure to provide funding.

"This decision is a slap in the face for our young people," the organisation said.

"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.

"This project was originally discussed with stakeholders in November 2014 and received unanimous cross-party support during two Assembly debates before the Games were awarded to Belfast in February 2016."

The council claimed the rationale for turning down the business cases had not been shared.

"This is hardly a classic example of transparency and accountability within government and the decision making sends a strong message to the international community that Northern Ireland is closed for business," it said.

"Many questions remain unanswered and we shall be pursuing these over the coming days. In the meantime, the NICGC would like to thank all those who have supported this project, especially the NI Sports Forum and our member governing bodies for sport.

"We also acknowledge the patience shown by the Commonwealth Games Federation and our global partners who have believed in Belfast and provided great encouragement over the last few years.

"Bids will now reopen for the 2021 Youth Games and we will wholeheartedly support the new host.

"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."

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."

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