Adjournment Debate. - European Youth Olympics.

The headlines of an Irish Times sports article written by Ian O'Riordan said it all: “Youth Olympians Pay the Price”, “Athletics – Another Row Over Kit”. Twenty 16 and 17 year olds are apparently being prevented from taking part in the European Youth Olympics because of a row between two sporting organisations. The deadline for this group of young people to participate internationally has been missed. I look forward to what the Minister has to say but, on the face of it, this seems to be an extraordinary situation. Coaches are committed to nurturing young talent by giving their time and energy. Young people have participated at national level to qualify for the European Youth Olympics, yet we now discover that they have not been officially entered for this international event because of a row. This has happened in the context of a major debate over a new national stadium and encouraging young people to participate in sport. What sort of example does this provide for these young people? One can only imagine their dismay, upset and sense of loss, and that of their families, in being denied the opportunity to participate internationally due to a dispute that first surfaced several years ago between two sporting organisations. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.

The European Youth Olympics would have represented a wonderful opportunity for the cream of Irish juvenile athletes to develop their talents on an international stage. Of all the teams, the athletes are the only ones who will suffer from this disagreement which, unfortunately, has prevented their participation. One can only imagine the disappointment this has caused.

Has the Government and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation taken any action to resolve this matter, or do they intend to? Given the enthusiasm, hard work and sporting dedication demonstrated by these young people, it is extraordinary that a barrier has been erected to prevent their participation in the European Youth Olympics.

According to reports, the feuding centres over the OCI's insistence that the AAI give a written guarantee that athletes would wear the official Olympic gear. However, each association has a contract with a rival brand. This dispute has gone on for a long time and it must be terribly disappointing for the young people involved. They have reached all the qualifying standards, yet they find that through no fault of their own they are being denied the opportunity to represent their country in Mercia, Spain, because of this impasse.

I wish to ask the Minister a number of questions and I hope he will be able to respond to them. Why has this row continued for five years? What can be done about it? What action is the Government taking to resolve the issue so that these young people can represent Ireland abroad? What role has the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation played, or does he intend to play, in this matter to ensure that a solution is found? What are these young people meant to say to their peer group from other countries with whom they have participated in other events? How will they explain their non appearance at this event in July because of an administrative row between two sporting organisations?

Our international reputation is being damaged by this matter. Young people are being denied an opportunity to participate and they are falling victim to this dispute. It is extraordinary that such a thing is happening to this group of young people. I hope action can be taken, even at this late stage, to allow them to represent Ireland at this important event which is necessary for them, their families and for sport in Ireland.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. While the matter raised by her is primarily an issue between two independent, autonomous organisations, I share her concern that sport, and athletics in particular, cannot but be adversely affected by yet another public disagreement of this kind.

It is vital that all the energies and resources of all those organisations and individuals charged with the responsibility to promote and develop sport, should be utilised to the maximum. To compete with any degree of success on the world stage nowadays requires a great deal of commitment, dedication and discipline, not just from the athletes but from the organisations and agencies who provide the back-up, support and the environment in which the athlete can develop and thrive in the pursuit of excellence.

The Deputy will be aware that because of my concerns in relation to the performance of so many of our competitors at the Sydney Olympics last year, I called on the relevant organisations to come together and work more effectively in future in achieving and maintaining high levels of performance in international competition, particularly in the Olympic games.

I requested the Irish Sports Council to carry out an in-depth review of Ireland's preparations for and participation in Sydney and the report and recommendations for future actions were published last February. The council, in co-operation with the other relevant bodies, is well under way in the implementation of the recommendations. A meeting of the key agencies, including the Olympic Council of Ireland, the national governing bodies of sport, and the national coaching and training centre has taken place. All parties have committed themselves to the recommendations and the spirit of co-operation required in the lead up to Athens 2004, and beyond.

A special high performance committee, which includes the OCI, has been established by the council, to assist and advise in the development of a high performance strategy for sport in Ireland. In addition, a special liaison group has been established between the sports council and the OCI to help maintain liaison and co-operation between both bodies and, crucially, to drive and monitor the implementation of the Sydney review recommendations.

In the light of these major initiatives to improve sport in Ireland and to introduce a new, dynamic spirit of generosity and co-operation between organisations, in the interests of our young sportsmen and women, I hope both bodies involved in the issue raised by the Deputy will come together and resolve their differences in the interest of the greater good of sport in Ireland.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 19 June 2001.