Posted on Thursday 15 November 2012 by Ulster Business

World Police Games

Any competition that includes an event named Toughest Competitor Alive is, you would expect, going to attract some pretty serious athletes.

That is certainly the case at the World Police and Fire Games – the third largest sporting event in the world in terms of the number of competitors who take part behind the Olympic Games and the World Masters.

Commonly referred to as the Olympics for serving and retired police, fire, prison and border security officers, the Games were first held in 1985 in San Diego.

The biennial event will next year be staged in and around Belfast, with an estimated 10,000 athletes and as many as 15,000 of their friends and families set to arrive on these shores over 10 days in August.

The World Police and Fire Games Federation – the equivalent of the International Olympics Committee – awarded the 2013 games to Belfast ahead of Washington DC and Calgary. It is only the third time it's been held outside North America and the first time in the British Isles.

John Tully, who as 2013 WPFG Chief Executive is leading the team charged with delivering the event, believes it represents a huge opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland to a global audience and to boost the economy.

"The response to the games and the excitement around it has been fantastic," he told Ulster Business.

"The Games will provide further evidence of Northern Ireland's ability to organise and host complex multi-sports events on this scale. Following on from the MTV Awards and the Tall Ships, it will help us attract more events in future. That can only help economic growth," he said.


The last Games, held in New York, had an exceptional turnout of around 16,000 competitors, and there has been strong interest in registration from North America this time around, with more than a quarter of all participants expected to come from across the Atlantic.

The organising committee estimate that the WPFG will bring in between £16m and £21.4m to the local economy based on the average spend per day for visitors, their friend and families, and other people associated with the games.

"I think that is a very realistic level of spend for that number of people while they are here, because they are going to be staying in accommodation, spending money in pubs and restaurants. We're working closely with the Tourist Board on the wider offering, packages that will encourage people to stay and see as much of NI as they can," said Tulley.

A team of around 35 are involved in the Games organising committee, many of whom are on secondment until the Games are delivered. The board has representation from all the services, as well as the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Belfast City Council and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

Having invested in bringing high profile events such as the Irish Open and the MTV Awards to Belfast in the last year, the WPFG is seen as a continuation of the Government's strategy to put Northern Ireland on the world map.

As with any event on its scale, there is a cost associated with it. The business case puts a value of £13.8m on staging the event, around £9.9m of which is cash.

John Tulley says the Games "more than pay for themselves" in terms of payback to NI plc. He notes that while there is no infrastructure being built – other than a temporary stadium in Titanic Quarter for the opening ceremony – there are procurement opportunities in the supply chain for everything from marquees to generators.

Part of the business case is built around commercial sponsors, and though the likes of Deloitte and Northern Bank are already on board, the organisers would welcome more.

"This is a global event and we'd expect to have significant media coverage during and after the event so there's a real opportunity for business to come on board and see a real return on investment in terms of raising awareness of their brand," said Tulley.


So, what can we expect from the Games themselves?

In total, competitors will take part in 66 sports in 41 locations, mostly around Greater Belfast but also covering areas such as North Down, Newcastle, Newtownabbey, Cookstown and the north Antrim coast.

As well as the aforementioned Toughest Competitor Alive, there will be other service specific strength and endurance events such as Muster, Ultimate Firefighter, and Stair Climb. However, the majority of the events contested will be recognisable to anyone interested in sport, with huge interest expected in popular sports such as ice hockey (which will start early because there have been so many applications) boxing, track and field and beach volleyball.

And while some events like tug of war, darts, ten pin bowling and dragon boat racing might not conjure up images of elite sport – or at least offer an indication that there will be a fun element to many events – it will definitely be competitive.

"There are people who are taking this extremely seriously, but there are also people who'll come to enjoy all that Northern Ireland has to offer," said Tulley.

"Athletes are already on very detailed training programmes. For one of the events, the stair climb, we've already had enquiries about the number of steps and whether the turns are clockwise or anti-clockwise. And we've had some teams from Scandinavia come over to play the golf courses in preparation. That gives you an idea of the level of planning and preparation some people are putting into the Games."

Athletes will compete at different levels and classes of competition, and all events will be free to enter to the public, guaranteeing some good crowds.

"Some sports like boxing will be of huge interest locally as well as to the friends and families of the visitors," added Tulley.

"There's been representation from the PSNI, Fire Service, Revenue and Customers, Prison Service in previous Games and we'd expect them to put up a good showing this time around as well."


One of the major successes of the London 2012 Olympics was the positive effect that the thousands of so-called Games-makers had on enhancing the experience of the people who attended.

The organisers of the 2013 World Police and Fire Games are aiming to capitalise on this goodwill to make their event the friendliest ever.

They have already signed up 2,700 volunteers of the 3,500 expected to be needed during the Games.

"The volunteer programme will deliver a diverse pool of trained and skilled volunteers for future events in Northern Ireland," said Tulley.

"The volunteers that have the experience will gain skills which will stay with them and may help as they step into the job market."

The Schools Programme associated with the Games is also building relationships between local schools and athletes, and the organisers are also taking their responsibilities seriously in other areas that might come under the heading of "legacy".

"There are some very tangible things in terms of legacy. The Mary Peters track has been upgraded with two additional lanes added there to bring it up to Olympic standard. But we've also taken a very realistic view of legacy and social inclusion, tourism and nominating charities," says Tulley.

The organising team are using social media to generate global interest and working with the airlines and the Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau to create packages that will give visitors the best possible view of Northern Ireland.

"When you start to see the team from cities like New York coming to Northern Ireland, that's when we'd expect the connections to be made to things like City of Culture and the West Belfast Festival, which are happening around the same time. We're discussing with those organisations how we can signpost events to give an offering to the visitor that allows them to experience all of those events," said Tulley.

By the time Belfast hands over the baton to Fairfax, it is to be hoped that the World Police and Fire Games will have moved Northern Ireland even further up the ladder in the global world of events and tourism.

For more information on sponsorship or volunteering at the World Police and Fire Games 2013 go to


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