The inspirational performances by Northern Ireland’s athletes at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics is a strong indicator of the growing strength of our local sporting system according to the Vice-Chair of Sport NI. Jay Colville made the remarks addressing a glittering array of homegrown sporting talent from Team GB and Team Ireland at a special reception to honour them hosted by the Minister for Communities, Deirdre Hargey MLA.

Jay Colville said, “Tokyo 2020 was an outstanding success for Northern Ireland at the Olympics and Paralympics. Not only did we celebrate the medals of Bethany Firth, Jason Smyth, Aidan Walsh, and James McSorley, but a combined record number of participants (38 compared to next highest Rio at 36) delivered fantastic performances in terms of Top 8’s and Top 16’s.”

“Our athletes are the pinnacle of personal and collective sporting achievement, but they are developed and supported by the entire sporting system. When they stand at the starting line, or even better on the podium, they do so on the shoulders of their school, or their club or of a talent development programme. Success is not built overnight, and we are really pleased to see our High Performance programme Sporting Winners play a positive role in that development work, supporting athletes right through their performance pathway in collaboration with the expertise of our Sports Institute.

“When we embarked on that programme in 2017, to help our athletes succeed we made some challenging decisions that were necessary. Firstly, we placed our trust in sports to be open about their ambitions and what they believed were realistic targets. And, secondly we ensured their development was aligned to national programmes.

“It is also important to recognise this was a preparation cycle like no other, with athletes and coaches showing tremendous resilience through the pandemic and agility in adapting programmes to peak a year later than originally planned.

“For a place the size of Northern Ireland to produce 38 Olympians and Paralympians is a real sign of a growing maturity of our sporting system. Compare this to Athens 2004 where we had nine participants across the Olympics and Paralympics, or Beijing 2008 with 18 athletes qualified.

“At Sport NI we are proud to play our part in helping our athletes compete with the best in world. But we can only do it through strong partnerships, our Olympic federations Team GB and Team Ireland, UK Sport and Sport Ireland, Governing Bodies and their development programmes, and our funders in the Department for Communities, and the National Lottery.

“Medals and fantastic performances on the biggest stage are amazing, but each athlete will inspire other young people to follow in their footsteps leading healthier more active lives, enjoying benefits to their self-esteem, confidence and education. That is the true power of sport, and it will be the legacy of this record-breaking generation.”