Alison Moffitt-Robinson will be the first female Chef de Mission in Northern Ireland's Commonwealth Games history, but wants to make sure other women follow in her footsteps.

The former javelin thrower will oversee an expected team of around 100 athletes at Birmingham 2022 next year, where there will be high hopes for a strong performance.

There is no other chance to compete for Northern Ireland at a multi-sport event than the Commonwealth Games, with athletes normally performing in British or Irish colours.

"It was a massively proud moment to be appointed," said Moffitt-Robinson to insidethegames

"It's great to be the first female but it's probably most important that I'm not the last. 

"I want to make sure I support the team to the best of my ability, and hopefully in doing so I can encourage others to follow suit, to step out of their comfort zone a little bit and challenge themselves.

"Whether that's in a Chef de Mission type role or whatever role that might be within sport - step up and do the best you can. 

"I'm enjoying the challenge." 

Moffitt-Robinson won the national title in javelin 13 times, as well as holding the national record.

She has enjoyed a long association with the Commonwealth Games, working at six editions including three as general manager.

Her first taste came at Kuala Lumpur 1998 after she missed out on the team which travelled to Malaysia's capital.

Alison Moffitt-Robinson at the Giant's Causeway, with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games baton ©Getty Images
Alison Moffitt-Robinson at the Giant's Causeway, with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games baton ©Getty Images

"I failed to qualify that year but I was working in sport already and I got the opportunity to come on board as one of the administrators in the headquarters team," she said.

"That was my first introduction to the Commonwealth Games.

"Birmingham is definitely front and centre in our planning.

"The Commonwealth Games is obviously a unique opportunity for us and most of our sports to actually represent Northern Ireland.

"It's a great opportunity to compete and put yourself against the best out there across the Commonwealth, and in so many of the sports there really are world leading performances. 

"That's great for our home athletes to be in there and to be competitive.

"We are pushing to try and increase our medal tally and increase our top eight performances. 

"We hope that everyone who goes as part of our team will be able to demonstrate their capacity to deliver good performances come Games time."

There will be plenty of sport for Northern Irish fans to get their teeth into next year, with the women's football team booking their place at Euro 2022.

This will be their first appearance at a major tournament, with the event taking place in England and slightly overlapping with the start of Birmingham 2022.

Northern Ireland has well documented political divides but it is hoped sport can act as a unifier.  

"I think sport in Northern Ireland can always be something that brings people together, it can also be quite divisive at times," Moffitt-Robinson said. 

"I'm hoping we'll have a really positive summer of sport next year, there's a massive number of events coming up over July and August. 

"The Northern Ireland women's football team have qualified for the European Championships, so I'm hoping the public will get behind them and continue their support onto us. 

"We'll be working to build the profile of the players and the sports in the lead-up to the Games to try and ensure that happens. 

"Obviously, people will follow their own sports as well, and those they are associated with. But I hope they will be able to get behind Team NI and give us that extra boost." 

Northern Ireland's women's football team qualified for their first major tournament, next year's Euros in England ©Getty Images
Northern Ireland's women's football team qualified for their first major tournament, next year's Euros in England ©Getty Images

It is hoped Northern Ireland will be able to keep a "one team" ethos in Birmingham, despite the decision to abandon the Athletes' Village and split delegations up across three different sites.

"The multi-sport aspect is special," Moffitt-Robinson said. "We're very keen to ensure that multi-sport and the value that brings isn't lost. 

"There are teams within teams, and everyone working together for the success of Team NI. A multitude of sports within that team is a fantastic opportunity.

"Every Games is unique anyway, and this one will be no different, it will have unique challenges. 

"We'll be split across the Birmingham and West Midlands area and we'll also have a group in London at the track cycling.

"It is a challenge, it does stretch our resources. But, if anything, the last year-and-a-half has taught us to be more resilient and more resourceful, and we're doing our best to manage the situation that is in front of us. 

"I think the plans we currently have in place are going to manage that well."

Northern Ireland will benefit from its close proximity to Birmingham, which allows the possibility of a larger support network and more family and friends in the stands.

Athletes are set to include gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, who won the team's only title at Gold Coast 2018 when he shocked England's Olympic champion Max Whitlock on the pommel horse. 

In the ring, boxing siblings Michaela and Aidan Walsh will be among those to watch, with the latter winning welterweight bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Track cyclist Mark Downey won a bronze medal in the points race at the 2019 World Championships, with NI team members looking to follow in the footsteps of greats including pentathlete Lady Mary Peters, a triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist.

The netball team is on track to qualify, and athletes have been boosted by a kit deal with Nike.

"It's important that our top level athletes do travel and do participate within the Games, that means an awful lot to us," Moffitt-Robinson said.

"Those who have had Olympic success and previous Commonwealth Games success will be back for maybe a second or third Games with us. We obviously rely on them to perform at their very best. 

"Nothing is guaranteed in sporting life so everyone has to continue to work hard and prepare the best they can, and come out fighting at the Games.

"We traditionally have areas where we've been stronger and bringing medals home. 

Rhys McClenaghan won gold on pommel horse at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images
Rhys McClenaghan won gold on pommel horse at Gold Coast 2018 ©Getty Images

"And we hope they will continue to do that, but we're also investing well in the preparation of all our sports to try and ensure that our spread of success is greater than it has been in the past. 

"So we get more medals and more top eight positions coming back from a greater number of sports, rather than maybe the few sports people would traditionally associate us with."

Moffitt-Robinson described McClenaghan's gold, Northern Ireland's first in gymnastics, as a "fabulous achievement". But there is no medal target yet for Birmingham after a total haul of 12 in Gold Coast.

"For everything to come together in that moment, that's what makes it really special," she said.

"Any success is worth celebrating and gold medals especially are worth celebrating.

"We haven't stipulated a medal target as our team size is different from where we've been previously, it's hard to work that out.

"It's not a straightforward science. But we're keen to push on with performance levels and for the sports to know exactly what they will be trying to achieve, and the athletes likewise, so they have goals that are specific."

Changes introduced by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), such as limiting compulsory sports in the future to just athletics and swimming, will be watched closely in Northern Ireland.

The introduction of more team sports, for instance, in which Northern Ireland does not compete, would have an impact if it leads to a reduction in individual places.

It is also hoped there will be the chance to bounce back from the disappointment of being stripped of the hosting rights for the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games.

Belfast was due to stage the event but the CGF pulled the plug in 2018 after no funding guarantees were made, following the collapse of a power-sharing coalition.

The Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council described the situation as "a slap in the face" for young people, with the Games eventually reallocated to Trinidad and Tobago.

However, the event was postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic and has not yet been rearranged.

"We were massively disappointed that it didn't happen at the time," said Moffitt-Robinson. 

"But hindsight is a wonderful thing and if you look at what has happened in the world since, it would have proved to be a very challenging year for us. 

"It would have been a fantastic Games here in Belfast, I think we'd be very able and willing to host, particularly Youth Games, in the future. 

"And who knows with the senior Games, where the new format will lead with that? I'll leave that to some of the others to deal with going forward! 

Aidan Walsh won boxing bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images
Aidan Walsh won boxing bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics ©Getty Images

"For the young people of the province to have had a Youth Games within Northern Ireland would have been a fantastic opportunity for them and a real inspiration for them going forward on their performance pathways. 

"We'll continue to support Youth Games as and when they are brought back into the calendar and hope that future opportunities may come our way."

Northern Ireland visited Birmingham this month as part of their preparations and are happy with how things are progressing in times which remain uncertain.

"Full credit to the Birmingham organisers and the CGF," Moffitt-Robinson said.

"At any time to plan a Games is difficult enough, but to do it in the mouth of a pandemic, the challenges are massive. 

"They are listening to us in relation to what the teams require and are certainly doing what they can to meet the varying demands. 

"They will be a very different Games but I think they will be a very successful Games where the performance of our NI team is concerned."