Council to implement Elite Athlete Free Use Schemes

LOCAL councillors have backed have backed a proposal to provide free use of their facilities at Coleraine Leisure Centre and the Jim Watt Centre to elite athletes from the Borough.

Richard Baker, Corporate Director of Leisure Services, told councillors last week the scheme is to provide athletes with facilities and reduce the financial burden.

“Elite Athlete Free Use Schemes have been in operation for a number of years in local councils and are seen as an opportunity to provide assistance to local athletes representing their sport at both junior and senior level at a national level,” said Mr Baker.

“Such schemes include free use of fitness suites and swimming pools in leisure centres within each local council. This provides athletes with the opportunity to increase their overall fitness, train at the level required for national competitive standards and reduce the associated financial burden of elite training.

“Council has received enquiries from a number of local athletes, who have been selected to represent their sport at a national level, requesting free access to Council’s main leisure facilities. The primary activity focus for training needs are the fitness suite and swimming pool in Coleraine Leisure Centre and the fitness suite in the Jim Watt Sports Centre.

“It is expected that with the history of elite performance in the Borough at national level, coupled with the success of local athletes in both the London Olympics and Paralympics 2012, that there will be increasing demand for such a scheme as local athletes aspire to replicate this success in their chosen sport.

Cllr William King backed the proposal saying: “In this day and age we are trying to encourage young people to get involved in sport so this can only be a good thing.”

Ald Maurice Bradley, who seconded the proposal, said it was an ‘excellent idea’ but asked how soon it could be implemented and if it would be opened up to local sports clubs.

The Lead Officer on the project, Wendy McCullough, said the project was ready to go and added that, although the scheme was aimed at individuals, council would look at opening it up to clubs until such time as their own facilities were updated.

Cllr George Duddy asked Mr Baker if the swimming pool at the leisure centre would be opened early to facilitate elite swimmers who currently have to travel to other facilities.

Mr Baker confirmed that it was hoped this would be implemented in the New Year.

To be eligible for the scheme, athletes must be competing in a sport recognised by Sport NI, and performing at a national level.

In return for free access athletes will be asked to volunteer as ambassadors to support local sporting events and inspire young people to take up a more active lifestyle.