Monday, 23 June 2014

GIRO - FACILITATING LOCAL ECONOMIC BOOM?

 
 
 Gordon Johnston: for Issue 14 of The Ulster Folk
 
The Giro D'Italia has left these shores costing in excess of £5million. The Northern Irish Tourist Board expects the event to generate some £2.5million for the economy and global media coverage worth £10million.
 
This event could be the spark that ignites the Northern Irish economy, not through tourism but through manufacturing and exports instead. To grab the potential of this future though will require imagination and determination from the people of Northern Ireland.
 
Imagine the Department of Culture, Art and Leisure working alongside the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. If these two Departments work together with a common goal of promoting competitive cycling Northern Ireland as a whole could reap the benefits.
 
The publicity alone from the Giro D'Italia will attract more young people into cycling as a sport or a hobby in Northern Ireland.
 
Imagine if that attraction could grow to make cycling more than a passing fad. Imagine if Northern Ireland didn't have to bring the Giro D'Italia or Tour de France to our shores but instead we went to theirs. Imagine a Northern Irish professional cycling team promoting the best of our sporting and mechanical/scientific talent.
 
Despite cycling being organised on an all island basis it retains the possibility to unite both tribes in Northern Ireland. A Northern Irish team could unite our people in support and love of a team we could all call our own. Such a team would act as sporting ambassadors throughout the world bringing Northern Ireland directly into the homes of millions showing how great our wee country is.
 
Personally I am wary of all government spending and spending on the scale needed to finance a top class professional cycling team would make my eyes water. I would hope that such a team could be funded privately from the best and biggest of Northern Irish companies with minimal public funds used to get the project started if need be.
 
Northern Ireland is more than capable of answering the challenge to compete on a global stage with innovative companies, top class universities and determined athletes standing ready. These skills and products could form the basis of a substantial export industry of itself one day. However in the short term this is an opportunity for our biggest and best companies to advertise their products and abilities in new markets around the world.
 
To develop the local sporting talent for a cycling team we need better coverage of local cycling events. Coverage of such events can also act as a tourist attraction when highlights are screened around the world. Appropriate routes could showcase the natural beauty of the Causeway Coast, the Fermanagh Loughs, Belfast City or indeed Lough Neagh whilst competitors navigate interesting and challenging courses in or around them. Greater exposure will attract more fans and more sponsors and exposure and popularity drives modern professional sport.
 
 
I hope the legacy of the Giro D'Italia is not the odd bit of tourist spending here and there but the spark of a cycling and industrial revolution taking place in Northern Ireland. I don't want the world to forever remember us as a good place to host events but to know us as the birthplace of champions! 
 

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