Sports Minister CarÃ¡l NÃ ChuilÃn has officially opened the 2011 CPISRA Boccia World Cup at the University of Ulster's Jordanstown campus.
The tournament is part of the qualifying rounds for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Boccia is a target ball sport belonging to the same family as bowls and is a Paralympic sport for athletes with severe disabilities affecting motor skills, and is one of only three Paralympic sports not to have an Olympic counterpart.
Speaking at Saturday night's event, Minister NÃ ChuilÃn said: “This is great news for sport and it is an honour for the north of Ireland to host the 2011 Boccia World Cup. Approximately 500 athletes, coaches and officials from 33 countries will compete for qualifying positions in the 2012 Paralympic Games.
“My Department, through Sport NI, has been working with the governing bodies of sport and local councils for some time, targeting teams and athletes to visit the north of Ireland for events and training in the run-up to 2012. Many of these discussions are now bearing fruit. In December we will host the International Badminton Championships which is a pre-qualifying event for the 2012 Olympic Games and of course the Boccia World Cup which we are opening tonight. We have also hosted several positive visits from a range of London2012 Olympic and Paralympic Committees including the Chinese gymnastics team and the Indonesian badminton squad.”
This is the first time the event has been held in Ireland or the UK and it is estimated the event will result in a cash injection of over £1million into the local economy.
The Boccia World Cup will be held from 20 – 26 August 2011 at the University of Ulster's Jordanstown campus.
With free entry for spectators, the event promises to be great entertainment and is also a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Boccia and increase participation in the sport, particularly in the run up to London 2012.
Professor Richard Barnett, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ulster, said: “The University of Ulster extends a warm welcome to all of the participants of the CPISRA 2011 Boccia World Cup.
“The University is at the forefront of sporting endeavour and we are committed to making this the most successful Boccia World Cup yet.
“With qualifying places at stake for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, the competition is set to be fantastic and we are looking forward to some excellent matches from the world’s elite Boccia talent.
“This wonderful event will leave a lasting legacy for sport for those with disabilities by serving as a catalyst for the development of the sport in Northern Ireland and the involvement of people of all abilities in sport in general.
“Bringing the Boccia World Cup to the University of Ulster shows the lengths that we, along with our partner organisations, have gone to, to bring the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to Northern Ireland.
“I would like to extend my thanks to those people who have given up their time to commit themselves to delivering a world-class event at a world-class venue.”
Disability Sport NI's Kevin O'Neill, said: "At Disability sports we have been very careful to plan a genuine legacy from the event. Over the last ten years we have worked hard at developing the sport of Boccia in Northern Ireland and as a result the sport is now widely played at a recreational level throughout the country by people with physical, sensory and learning disabilities. However the next stage is to develop a squad system and performance pathway for young people who show some talent in the sport, and we are confident we can achieve this as a direct legacy of the Boccia World Cup."
Minister NÃ ChuilÃn concluded by saying: “Hosting international sporting events is a great way of showing the world what the north has to offer. I am hopeful that some of the competitors taking part in this Championship will qualify for the paralympic Games and we could be welcoming them back for pre-games training in 2012. I congratulate all those involved in attracting this competition here. This is proof of a successful partnership between the University of Ulster, GB Boccia and Disability Sport NI.”
For further info and daily updates on the 2011 Boccia World Cup visit http://www.sportsulster.com/boccia2011.php