Sport Northern Ireland officials and history-making rugby referee Joy Neville have paid tribute to the work of Northern Ireland’s sports clubs, coaches, officials and volunteers at a ceremony at Titanic Belfast this evening.

The SportMaker Celebration Evening brought together the winners of Sport NI’s 2017 Coaching, Officiating and Volunteering Awards, who were presented with awards in recognition of outstanding achievements in delivering and supporting sport at all levels within local communities.

Joining the award winners was special guest speaker Joy Neville, a former Ireland women’s rugby union international and a current rugby union referee, who discussed her outstanding career and the vital role officials play at all levels of competition. In 2016 she made history after becoming the first woman to ever officiate in a professional European rugby match, and in 2017 Neville was named World Rugby Referee of the Year. Last week, she became the first female to officiate a Pro14 match in the UK, refereeing at Kingspan stadium during Ulster Rugby’s victory over the Southern Kings.

Among those receiving awards during the SportMaker Celebration Event was Elaine Rice, Head Coach of the Northern Ireland Netball team, who was named High Performance Coach of Year. Elaine was joined on stage by members of the Northern Ireland squad who will be competing at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.

Also recognised during the ceremony was Simply Judo Connects, a Belfast-based judo initiative integrating refugee families into their local community through judo. The intervention was named Coaching Project of the Year, having previously been shortlisted as a finalist at the 2017 UK Coaching Awards.

Speaking at the event, Sport NI Chief Executive Antoinette McKeown said:

“At Sport NI, we are passionate about supporting everyone here to develop and reach their sporting goals, from playground right through to podium. We know that local clubs and our outstanding sporting workforce are at the heart of making sport happen. Sometimes, it can be easy to forget the work that’s done behind the scenes, or to take for granted the difference it makes. That’s why we’re so honoured to be hosting this event.

“Tonight is all about shining a spotlight onto our local SportMakers and celebrating the work they do and the impact it has on athletes, clubs and communities. We are especially honoured to be joined by Joy Neville this evening – her inspirational story and accomplishments are testament to the dedication, talent and professionalism of the sporting workforce, and the power they have to transform sport. I would like to congratulate all of those recognised this evening, thank them for their outstanding work in service of local sport, and wish them continued success in the future.”

The SportMaker Celebration also saw recognition for local sports clubs that successfully attained Sport NI’s Clubmark NI accreditation in 2017. Clubmark NI is Northern Ireland’s quality standard for junior sports clubs. The programme aims to identify, develop, accredit and recognise high quality junior sports clubs and the contribution that they make to the development of sport in Northern Ireland.