Northern Ireland

London 2012: Where is Northern Ireland's legacy?

Seb Coe with Olympic torch
Image caption A year to go to London 2012, but is Northern Ireland ready?

Legacy - it is the buzzword of the London 2012 Olympics.

How will bringing the biggest event in the world to the UK have a broader impact than just 17 days of top class sport in and around east London?

But that's where Northern Ireland could fall short of the podium. With a year to the Olympics opening ceremony Northern Ireland has no tangible potential benefit from the Games in place.

No training camps, no warm-up competitions and no planned visits by any of the top teams competing at the Games.

So have we dropped the ball?

Kate Hoey, the Labour MP, thinks so. The County Antrim-born former sports minister said that Northern Ireland had been "complacent" towards the Olympics and was suffering as a result.

One potential fringe benefit of the Games was the building of an Olympics sized swimming pool in Bangor. When announced back in June 2007, it was suggested that Northern Ireland's first 50m pool would be perfect for a pre-Games training camp.

But that will not happen now. It was originally due for completion by March 2010. North Down Borough council has confirmed that the new pool will not be ready until autumn 2012, after the Games has finished.

The Republic has fared better. Four teams have committed to training there in the run-up to the Games. And the irony is, they are all to be based at the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin. They are the Hungarian and British water polo teams, the USA synchronised swimming team and the UK Paralympic swimmers.

Kate Hoey believes there is also a missed opportunity in another major sport that is one of the few playing outside London.

"It would have been wonderful if the money that is going to be spent on Windsor Park had been put in place earlier so we could have got some of the football," she said.

Image caption Bangor swimming pool was due to be completed by March 2010.

"Football is the one event that's going around everywhere and we are missing out on that and if Belfast had been organised earlier we would have been able to benefit from that."

Ms Hoey also referred to the delay in the building of the Bangor pool and the general lack of investment in sporting facilities in Northern Ireland.

"We have maybe been a little bit complacent in Northern Ireland and we could have done more."

Northern Ireland Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin recently responded to criticism of what has been done to secure a legacy for Northern Ireland from the Olympics.

She said she was disappointed no teams have yet been signed up for a training camp but added that "Sport NI, local councils and the many governing bodies are proud of the success to date".

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has confirmed that what it calls "several world sporting events" will be held before the Games.

These are Lisburn Racquets club hosting the Irish International Badminton Championships which will ensure qualification for 2012, the Boccia World Cup - a Paralympic sport for cerebral palsy sufferers similar to bowls, and a recent visit by two former gold medallist Chinese gymnasts to the Salto club in Lisburn. It is hoped that particular visit could lead to further links with the Chinese gymnastic team.

The department has also said it hopes to announce further Olympic qualifying events in the coming months.

But with just a year to go until the biggest show in the world, it seems Northern Ireland can only look forward to watching London 2012 from afar.

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