Derry’s international youth soccer tournament, the Foyle Cup, is facing a funding crisis with the very future of the competition at risk.
The annual event - which attracts teams from across the world - brings in valuable tourism revenue each year.
In fact, for each of the past five years, the tournament has generated more than 13,000 bed nights in the region.
However, the popular summer competition - which helped launch the careers of Darron Gibson (Manchester United) and Paddy McCourt (Celtic) - has this year been turned down for £40,000 worth of funding by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), which says the annual event did not score high enough in its funding criteria.
Michael Hutton, the driving force behind the annual tournament, says that while this year’s event will go ahead, its future cannot be guaranteed.
“The simple fact is that if funding is not secured to run this event, it cannot continue,” he told the ‘Journal’.
According to Mr. Hutton, the annual six-day event - which this year will involve in the region of 130-140 teams - costs in the region of £130,000 to run.
“For the life of me, I cannot see how the event fails to meet the key criteria for funding,” he said. “I can only suggest that there must be a problem with the criteria.”
Mr. Hutton said he dreaded the day when the Foyle Cup would have to be scrapped due to lack of funding.
“We started with a one day tournament. It has grown to such an extent that it now takes place over six days and attracts in the region of 130-140 teams from across the globe. The tournament has a worldwide reputation and generates a tremendous amount of income for the local economy. But, sometimes, you have to wonder if certain authorities are aware of this.”
Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney says he has written to Tourism Minister Arlene Foster expressing his deep concern at the NITB decision.
He said: “Many people are gravely concerned not only about the effect this decision will have on the future of this tournament but how it will have a detrimental effect on the hundreds of young people who participate in it.”