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Fears that chance to make World Police and Fire Games a tourist hit will be wasted

By Noel McAdam

The Executive has been warned to up its game to ensure the success of a major international sports event in two years’ time.

The prestigious World Police and Fire Games are expected to attract more than 25,000 visitors and provide a boost for the province’s hard-hit economy in the summer of 2013.

But there are fears the opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland and exploit the tourism potential of the event could be squandered.

The failure of the Assembly to reach agreement over the Maze stadium project and signs that Ulster will play little part in next year’s Olympics have fuelled concerns.

With funding now axed for the development of five elite sports facilities, doubts are surfacing over whether alternative facilities can be developed to the required standard — and in time.

However, responding to questions from the Alliance Party, Sports Minister Nelson McCausland said the World Police and Fire Games Federation had made no stipulation about the five elite projects. The proposals for state-of-the-art athletics, basketball, sailing, cycling and tennis facilities have all been dumped.

But Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn said the World Police and Fire Games were another huge opportunity and the Executive must do better in terms of delivering improved stadium and sport facilities.

“This (the World Police and Fire Games) has the potential to be massive for our economy, with the injection of millions of pounds from participants,” he said.

“And yet there is no stadium in place to host the event. One of the main objectives of the Maze project was to deliver an amazing stadium and this was to be the first major event to be held at it.

“A top-class Maze stadium would have made these games an extraordinary success. Without it we will need to work even harder.”

The Lagan Valley MLA added: “Other political parties squandered the opportunities that would have come with a new stadium at the Maze — we must not squander the opportunities of these games.”

DUP minister Mr McCausland replied: “There are suitable venues within Northern Ireland that meet the WPFG Federation’s standards.

“Venues both within and outside of Belfast have met the standard and a process to select venues is currently under way.”

background

In terms of the number of competitors, the World Police and Fire Games is second only to the summer Olympics as the biggest sporting event globally. Some 10,000 competitors are expected to take part in more than 65 events, including athletics, football, swimming, rugby, hockey, shooting, rowing and tennis. Up to £6m from the public purse is paying for the 2013 event, in which serving and retired police officers, firefighters, prison officers and customs officials compete.

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