Northern Ireland’s ability to produce world class swimmers will be damaged by the closure of the Robinson Centre, it is being claimed on Thursday.
A coach with one of the region’s top swimming clubs told Belfast Live their coaching sessions have been severely disrupted in the wake of the East Belfast facility being closed down.
The Leander Athletic Swimming Club has taken 17 swimmers to top level events including the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Championships including Sycerika McMahon who qualified for the London Olympics.
But coach Jim McIlveen says regular sessions at the pool have now been replaced by swimmers being left “all over the place” as they have to go to facilities across Belfast and as far away as Bangor.
He added: “We’re having to ask people now who were coming to the Robinson Centre to now be poolside in Bangor at 5am. We’re also getting to use facilities in Belfast like Whiterock, but we’re all over the place which is disruptive.
Sycerika McMahon in the pool
“The concern is, they’ve just closed the doors and there’s our club, there’s other swimming clubs and then there’s regular users of the Robinson Centre like the gym users and various classes, they’ve all been left high and dry. There’s also the more than 30 schools who used it for swimming and they’re having to find alternatives.
“Figures we have show the footfall at the Robinson Centre was 350, 000 people a year. Where are all these people going to go now? There’s talk there may be some other facility in East Belfast, but no one knows where and more importantly when it’s going to be built. If you’re optmistic and it’s built in four years, you can’t underestimate the disruption that’s going to cause to coaching people to the highest levels.
“It takes ten years to take a child to the highest level and you need to be starting at seven or eight and you can’t have disruption like this going on. This is damaging the potential to bring the next generation to the top level.”
The Robinson Centre has been closed after concerns were raised about the presence of asbestos in the building. Mr McIlveen said people are questioning the timing of the closure which has happened in the wake of the centre transferring from Castlereagh to Belfast City Council.
The centre is now at the centre of a High Court case over which council should pay for the ay work that has to be done to the facility.
Concerns about the future of leisure facilities in the area are to be raised at a public meeting on Tuesday, Jun 9, at Orangefield Presbyterian Church.
The DUP has said “leisure provision in East Belfast should not be second best”.
Councillor Brian Kingston says Belfast Council “has already committed £19 million to pay for a replacement centre to be delivered within four years”.