Cities will be linked forever in sport
I am on my way back to Belfast after a productive 24 hours in Milan, the city which gave birth to one of the world’s greatest sporting events, the Giro d’Italia.
On 10 May next year our two cities will be forever linked in sport when the magnificent spectacle which is the Giro starts in Belfast.
This will be the biggest-ever sporting event to be hosted by Belfast and will give us a job-spinning and tourism bonanza while showcasing the hospitality of our people and the beauty of our country to prospective visitors.
And the figures are truly staggering: Giro, one of the world’s three great cycle races, was broadcast daily this year in 174 countries and attracted millions of supporters on the streets. Over one billion unique users visited the Giro official website, 1600 journalists reported on the action as 200 of the world’s top cyclists battled it out for the famed pink jersey.
Yesterday, at Bocconi University in Milan, I joined the Mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, to accept an award for our two cities in recognition of our determination to use sport to build a prosperous future for our peoples. The Giro started from Naples this year.
But the true success of Giro 2014 must also be measured in the social, environmental and cultural impact: how many more people will be encouraged to take up the sport of cycling, how many will reduce their carbon footprint by taking up cycling and backing the proposed new Belfast bikeshare scheme, how many ways can we unite all our citizens to celebrate the Giro and the power of sport to change lives and build community?
And of course, as I explained to the Mayor of Milan last evening when we met in the magnificent City Hall, his beloved Giro will be in good hands in Belfast for in many ways cycling is coming home: it was here in 1889 that Willie Hume transformed the sport by winning the first cycle race using a pneumatic tyres invented by local man John Dunlop. The 125th anniversary of that race on the Ormeau Road is next year, an occasion surely worth marking at the Grande Partzena, the Big Start, in Belfast!