Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Wednesday, 20 July 2005 09:07 UK

Skier looks south for opportunity

ski lift
Richard has to go abroad to train

A leading young Belfast skier is hoping to head for the top via Dublin, because there is so little interest in the sport locally that Northern Ireland does not have an international team.

Last winter, Richard Wilkinson, 15, a pupil at Belfast Royal Academy, won the British schoolboy's international slalom in Meribel in France.

It was a first for the province, but skiers need national team structures for international competitions.

Richard hopes to enter junior

competitions next year and for that he needs an FIS licence - Federation International du Ski - but his father Drew said there was more to entering competitions than simply having a licence.

"Getting a licence isn't a problem but being able to compete in the international races is the problem," he said.

"Because there is a quota system applied to each of the international countries the British quota is normally between six and eight places per race, and obviously if you've got England, Scotland and Wales all of them competing for the same places makes it very difficult for a lone skier from Northern Ireland to get a place allocated to him.

"He's not being excluded but there's such a number of people, especially in Scotland where there are a lot of good skiers, and you've got to be right at the top of this particular game to secure one of those very coveted six to eight places.

It's on a whole new level it's all international, you get to ski with the French, the Austrians everything it's a lot better
Richard Wilkinson

"We don't have a lot of people in Northern Ireland skiing at Richard's level.

"Had we a Northern Ireland team, Northern Ireland would be able to have a bigger share of the quota allocated to the British contingent."

Anne O'Connor secretary of the Snow Sports Association of Ireland said Richard's was the first application from Northern Ireland for an Irish FIS licence.

She said the licence would let him take part in international events, possibly even the winter Olympics, as an Irish skier.

"We are delighted to look at applications from young athletes and promote the sport in Ireland and also to encourage young athletes to achieve a goal or their career in sport," she said.

She said that he had a good chance of taking part in international competitions with an Irish licence.

Richard has already been invited to train with the England ski team and said he is delighted at the prospect of competing at international level as an Irish skier.

"It's on a whole new level it's all international, you get to ski with the French, the Austrians everything it's a lot better," he said.

"In terms of how far I'd like to take it, I'd love to take it to the junior winter Olympics with the Irish squad. I think I've a chance and it would be a brilliant opportunity."

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