Sport Northern Ireland chief Antoinette McKeown insists the organisation has been “transformed” from the entity recently revealed to have wasted £1.5m because of governance failures.
An NI Audit office report documented a turbulent period at the public body which included McKeown being suspended, dismissed and then reinstated.
“That report is an historic report, it has not been relevant for a number of years now and it is unfortunate that it hadn’t been published in 2017,” said the Sport NI chief executive.
“It had been anticipated in the year 2016-2017, so it is out of date and indeed every recommendation that is attributable to Sport NI has already been implemented or is in the process of being implemented effectively.”
The period of upheaval in Sport NI included a failure to provide satisfactory accounts over a four-year period which also saw the organisation’s chairman, vice-chairman and nine board members resigning.
However, in an interview with BBC Radio Ulster’s Sportsound Extra Time, the Sport NI boss insisted that the shortcomings, laid bare in the report in March, have been addressed in recent years.
“We regret very much that it wasn’t published in a timely manner. We worked with the Northern Ireland Audit Office and the Department for Communities, our government department, to get that out but it is a historic report.
“Anyone who has been working with Sport NI for the last number of years will have seen the transformation that the organisation has undertaken in culture, in strategy and we are working through a structure to bring in an entirely new leadership team to the organisation.
“The board, the staff, the executive team have been working highly effectively as our effectiveness reviews have demonstrated and we’ve had an excellent independent pure assessment report in 2017 that showed just how committed our staff and the organisation is.”
Sport NI launched Sport Wellbeing hub
Sport NI last week launched its online Sport Wellbeing Hub in response to the challenges raised by the coronavirus and McKeown said that responding to Covid-19’s impact on mental health in Northern Irish sport had become a critical part of its work.
“We launched the Hub last week knowing that UK charities have reported unprecedented increases in calls to their helplines,” added McKeown.
“In a recent young minds survey, 83% of young people said that they felt worse or much worse mentally as a result of Covid-19.
“We know that Northern Ireland has the highest level of mental ill health in the United Kingdom with one in five adults suffering and 45,000 children experiencing mental health problems at any one time.
“The uptake been incredible.
“We have run 2,500 workshops in awareness-raising sessions across sports. We have been privileged to work with some of our sporting ambassadors who have spoken about their journey and their mental health.
“We have a very specific programme in the Northern Ireland Football League around providing support to the players and coaches of all soccer clubs, from offering awareness training to access to addiction services.
“It’s been a critical part of our work over the last year and more so in the last few weeks.”
Serious cashflow problems in sporting sector
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey in April launched a £500,000 Hardship Fund to help sports clubs and organisations affected by the pandemic.
“It has been a very difficult time for sport, from the smallest clubs to our largest governing bodies,” admitted McKeown.
“There are serious cashflow problems in the sector, but Sport NI moved quickly to get money out into the sector, the earliest ever, on 1, 2 and 3 April – we placed £2.4million into the sector.
“We followed that very quickly with a hardship fund working in partnership with our department for communities in government.
“We did a simple exercise that if your club was eligible for it, then you would receive it and money is already starting to flow into those clubs.
“Clearly Sport NI and the department for communities recognise that it is not enough to meet the demand but we are looking to within our own budget to see if we can transfer some money back over to that hardship fund.”