Olympic cauldron lighter Katie Kirk backs indoor track petition

Olympic cauldron lighter Katie Kirk has handed in a petition to the Northern Ireland assembly calling for funding to made available to build an indoor athletics arena in the province.

Kirk, 18, presented the plea signed by over 350 local athletes to Green Party leader Stephen Agnew on Tuesday.

"It's really difficult to train in the winter here," said 400m runner Kirk.

The athlete added local athletics is in danger of missing out on the Olympic legacy because of poor facilities.

She was joined at the handing in of the petition by a number of other prominent local track and field athletes including Amy Foster and Jason Harvey, who both competed at last year's European Championships in Helsinki.

Kirk added that it was appropriate that the athletes were at Stormont because the Parliamentary Buildings' Mall was the only area she could train on during the heavy snowfalls of two years ago.

"That was the case for around a month that winter. This bit of road up the seemed to be the only place that wasn't totally iced up in Northern Ireland during that period.

"The climate here really limits what you are able to do training wise so we have to got to look at getting some proper indoor facilities."

Hurdler Harvey is grateful that he is able to use the exisiting indoor facility for elite athletes at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland but the track is only 60 metres and is not suitable for all the various track and field disciplines.

"It's just not enough. Myself and Katie are 400m runners so we can just about use it but the likes of distance runners just can't," added Harvey.

Former Commonwealth Games athlete Wendy Phillips was the driving force behind getting the petition organised and she points out that the Jordanstown facility, excellent though it is, has a reduced availability for grassroots athletes.

"Also, it is for SINI athletes from all sports - not just athletics," added Mrs Phillips.

"For example, if the Ulster Rugby team wants to come and train on it, they will have priority.

"The next generation of athletes that are coming along can't get access to it after eight o'clock at night."

Green Party leader Agnew is firmly backing the petition.

"This can shine a spotlight on athletics and its needs and bring it to the minister's attention," he added.

Over the last decade, Belfast's Odyssey Arena has hosted the Irish Indoor Championships but next year's Championship will move to the new permanent facility in Athlone.

As a result, the Belfast indoor facility is effectively being decommissioned and it's far from certain whether athletics events will be staged again at the venue.

In any case, the Belfast venue has only been used an indoor venue once a year over the past decade.