TWO major international youth football tournaments may be eligible for alternative funding after failing to receive financial support from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), it has emerged.
Tourism minister Arlene Foster has revealed she has instructed officials within her department to liaise with “other relevant organisations” over the possibility of outside backing for both the Milk Cup and Foyle Cup.
Last week, organisers of both highly-regarded competitions expressed dismay after the NITB turned down separate applications for grant aid, each amounting to £40,000.
Joined by local politicians, they have demanded a rethink of the decisions, pointing to the huge economic and tourism benefits for the north-west associated with the annual summer tournaments.
In a statement on the ongoing cash row, Mrs Foster said she was aware of the importance of the competitions, “not only to those who participate in the sporting events but also the wider community”.
Commenting on the applications to the NITB funding scheme, the minister said: “The scheme was heavily oversubscribed and funding was allocated to those events which scored the highest marks against pre-set criteria. Unfortunately funding could not be awarded to these two events within the total amount available.
“However, to ensure these events continue to receive support, I have asked my officials to have discussions with other relevant organisations regarding the possibility of alternative funding.”
The minister’s intervention comes after members of the Milk Cup committee wrote to local political representatives calling on them to lobby the NITB to reverse its decision.
In the correspondence, Milk Cup official Jim Sandford claims they were informed by the NITB that “the panel felt there was not enough information detailed in the application form to warrant an award”.
In the category ‘event viability and management experience’, despite being held on an annual basis since 1983, the tournament only scored 29 points out of a possible 65. In the ‘Northern Ireland brand’ category, it tallied 10 out of 20 possible points.
Mr Sandford said: “In part of the UK and Ireland where tourism is event-driven, it is hard to believe the NITB sees fit to turn down an application for funding for the Milk Cup. If the Milk Cup does not qualify for funding under the present criteria then that criteria is wrong and something needs to be done about that.”
East Londonderry MLA David McClarty slammed the NITB decision, given the proud record of the competition.
“For people to make a decision based purely on an application form is an absolute nonsense,” the Independent Unionist said.
“We have to work and promote proven, successful events and there is none more successful than the Milk Cup.”