NIO launches Centenary Athletics Programme

Children from across Northern Ireland were given a unique opportunity to compete alongside Olympic and World Championship athletes under a new sporting initiative announced by the NIO as part of its Centenary year programme.

The once-in-a-lifetime experience was the culmination of a three week Children’s Summer Athletics Programme, which launched on the 29 July 2021 and saw 250 children from across Northern Ireland receive coaching delivered by athletic clubs in Derry/Londonderry, Belfast, Armagh and Omagh, supported by Athletics NI.

As part of the NIO initiative, children competed in a series of activities and their progress was monitored throughout the programme, culminating in regional finals which saw the top three girls and top three boys in each region selected.

These children then took part in a National Final at the Belfast International Track and Field Meet, which was held at the Mary Peters Track on 11 September 2021. There, they were able to meet Northern Ireland sporting stars of the past and present.

The 2021 Belfast International Track and Field Event was also supported by the NIO as part of its Centenary programme, and showcased Northern Ireland’s world class athletic facilities and athletics successes. The high-profile event saw close to 200 elite athletes from across the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere converging on Northern Ireland.

Following hot on the heels of the Tokyo Olympics, the event attracted returning Olympic and Paralympic competitors. It culminated in a prize giving ceremony involving Northern Ireland sporting icon and Olympic gold medal winner Lady Mary Peters, followed by a VIP evening reception celebrating NI’s finest athletes and athletic successes.

Welcoming the announcement, Secretary of state for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis MP said:

“I am delighted to launch this Children’s Summer Athletics Programme as part of the NIO’s programme for the Centenary year, and to announce the NIO’s support for the annual Belfast International Track and Field Meet. 

“Northern Ireland has always punched well above its weight in sporting achievement, and to have hundreds of elite athletes from across the world travelling to Belfast to compete demonstrates the respect in which it is held.

“Also, in this Olympic year I hope that the opportunity to meet heroes such as Lady Mary Peters and to compete alongside world-class athletes serves as inspiration to the children taking part, who could include our next generation of gold medal winning athletes!”

President of Athletics NI Gerry Carson said: 

"We are delighted to announce the return of the Belfast International Meeting in a fixture which will be part of the European Athletics Promotions circuit. This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the athletics talent we have resident here, as well as attracting competitors from other parts of Europe to compete in this high level fixture.

"The Children's Summer Athletics Schemes will give young athletes from a wide range of areas the opportunity to compete at this International Meeting and to rub shoulders with some of their sporting heroes.

“It is fantastic that these events are being supported by the Northern Ireland Office during the Centenary year.” 

Northern Ireland Olympic gold medal winner Lady Mary Peters added: 

“I am delighted to support the Belfast International Meet, which is a wonderful opportunity for both our International and young, aspiring athletes to come together to compete at the Mary Peters Track. 

“It is fantastic to have the support of the Northern Ireland Office to allow us to extend our children’s programme across Northern Ireland to encourage and develop young talent.”