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I’m not sure if it was Camus or Sartre who said, “everything I learnt in life I owe to football” but you get the picture: sport is about more than thumping a ball around a pitch.

That’s especially true in the city of Belfast where sports have been the cement holding together an often fractured city.

That doesn’t mean that everyone supported the same sides or favoured the same games but it is and was the case that those who loved sporting activities built character in our young people and spirit in our neighbourhoods.

Indeed, who would dispute the fact that sporting clubs did more for the wellbeing of our young people than all the worthy government youth initiatives combined?

And of course, there emerged over the years great icons of sport who put a smile on the face of Belfast. Champions of the ring, wizards of the wing, and masters of the fairway.

But they have been celebrated time out of number.

Now it’s time to doff our hats to the unsung heroes who chalk the pitches and clean the rigs, fill the drinking bottles and flog the raffle tickets.

For those are the volunteers whose hardwork, dedication and perserverence lie behind the success of our sportspeople and the vibrancy of our sporting organisations.

Over the next few years, we all hope to see a great resurgence of sport in Belfast as major investment is ploughed into our three major sporting venues with a view to triggering regeneration of our communities.

That will be a welcome development but let’s not forget that the sports volunteers, 40 of whom are being honoured in these awards, are the real sporting infrastructure of this great city.

This year we have a wealth of talent to celebrate, in a range of sports, from kick-boxing to cricket, mixed martial arts to swimming and everything inbetween.

Amongst our fabulous 40 in this Olympic year are Pat Hunter from the Irish Table Tennis Association, who has helped guide Belfast-based Na Liu to the London Games, where she will represent Team GB – the first Northern Ireland table tennis player ever to compete at the Olympics.

And staying on the Olympic theme we recognise Sean McCafferty, a former Olympian himself, who turned his hand to volunteering after the 1964 Tokyo Games in the St John Bosco club.

There, Michael Conlan first tried his hand at the noble art under Sean’s guidance and this July Michael will box for Ireland in London.

So we say well done to them and to all our Sports Volunteers, who tirelessly give their time for the sport they love.

Our thanks to sponsors Hughes Insurance, Sere Chevrolet, Asda, O’Neills and Hakka Noodle for making these awards possible and our congratulations to all those who made the final forty.

Go raibh rath is bláth ar bhur spóirt.

Conor McLoughlin
Sports Editor,
Belfast Media Group