THE Belfast International Athletics meet returns for a third successive year in 2017 and will once again be held at the Mary Peters Track in South Belfast on Saturday, June 24. Leading athletics from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales will take part in the event which is being hosted by the Beechmount Harriers Athletics Club in association with the Irishmilers Club and the West Belfast Coolers Running Club.

In recent years, the event has developed into one of the most prestigious athletics meetings in Ireland.

This year’s meet will have races over a range of distances for both male and female athletics covering various abilities.

The meet will also act as a qualification event for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Speaking at the launch of this year’s meet, Belfast Lord Mayor Brian Kingston praised the event’s organisers for their commitment to making it a success.

“It is a real pleasure for me to host the launch of this athletics meeting and I want to thank everyone for bringing the Belfast International to the city for the third year,” he said.

“I want to thank Eamonn Christie (Race Director) and everyone at Beechmount Harriers and the Irishmilers Club for organising this event which will be held at the Mary Peters Track.

“Belfast City Council is very pleased to be supporting this athletics event. Our staff are very committed to helping the event go well.

“It is a sense of pride for us that Belfast is building a strong track record for hosting international sporting events over recent years.

“We have hosted the World Police and Fire Games, the Giro d’Italia and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year. This year, we will host the UEFA U19 Women’s European Championship and the Woman’s Rugby World Cup jointly with Dublin. In November and December, we host two American College tournaments – the Friendship Four and the Basketball Hall of Fame tournament.

“It is great to see that many international events happening in Belfast and the Belfast International meet is adding to that tally. “Sport plays an important role in our city and we are proud of our sports heroes.”

Michael Magee, secretary of Beechmount Harriers added: “I want to thank the Lord Mayor for hosting the launch and to Dame Mary Peters for attending.

“On behalf of Beechmount Harriers, we would like to thank the Irishmilers in conjunction with our latest club in West Belfast, the West Belfast Coolers, for coming on board to co-host the meet.

“This is our third year running this event which covers several distances.

“This year, there will be paced races which will encourage some of our top athletes throughout Ireland to enter and give them an opportunity to achieve qualifying times for the Commonwealth Games and World Championships.

“Our race director, Eamonn Christie has worked hard over the last two years to promote this event. We have had some great athletes over the last two years and he has lined up even more elite athletes from England, Scotland, Wales and throughout Ireland for this year. It promises to be a great event and we hope to make it one of the most prestigious events held in Ireland.

“I also want to thank Belfast City Council for coming on board and promoting this event.”

Dame Mary Peters also spoke at the launch and she wished all the competitors well on race day.

“I am delighted to see so many athletes here,” she said.

“I have to give credit to Belfast City Council.

“They spent £3.5 million upgrading the track for the World Police and Fire Games and it is one of the best tracks in the country and in the whole of the UK.

“People love to run there because of its ambiance and they can produce fast times. I wish the runners on June 26 every possible success.”

As in previous years, the meet will support two charities – the ‘Fight on for Annie’ and Solas Autism and Additional Needs for Charity NI.

Fight on for Anne is a fund which raises money for two UK Pancreatic Cancer charities. The fund was set up in October 2014 in memory of Annie O’Neill who lost her seven month battle with the disease in January 2014. Solas, established in 2009, is a special needs charity which supports children and young people with a broad range of additional needs including autism and ASD.