A world of smiles and night of celebration as Police and Fire Games blast off
Joyful ceremony raises curtain on 10 days of sport
The third largest international multi-sport event in the world has been declared officially open at a spectacular ceremony in Belfast.
The 2013 World Police and Fire Games opening ceremony at the King's Hall complex drew a crowd of around 14,000 people, including 7,000 competitors from all over the globe.
Presenters Ralph McLean and Lynette Fay hosted the Dare to Dream outdoor event, which began with the host of participating country flags entering the arena and a performance from the MT4Uth alumni choir, including Niamh Perry, Jayne Wisener and Rhiannon Chesterman.
The excited crowd then cheered and clapped the athletes parade, which started with the USA, the last Games host, and finished with Northern Ireland, who got the biggest cheer of the night.
The WPFG flag was carried into the arena by the four local services – police, fire, prison and customs – before First Minister Peter Robinson gave a speech saying the games represented "a new era for Northern Ireland moving forward to a shared future". He paid tribute to the men and women of the services at the WPFG, which involves 56 sports across 42 venues up until August 10.
"Services that make it a better and safer place for communities to live in," he added.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness offered the crowd a big "cead mile failte" and commented on the importance of our peace process around the world.
Speeches were also given by the games chair and deputy chair, PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie and by NIFRS Deputy Fire Officer Dale Ashford.
Olympic champion Dame Mary Peters lit the games cauldron, while WPFG president Mike Graham declared the games officially open.
Dame Mary told the Belfast Telegraph it was wonderful to be part of such a special occasion.
"Being part of taking the oath and lighting the cauldron was very, very special. Now we've got 10 days of sport to enjoy and we hope the public knowing that it's free to attend any of the events, will give it support and show our typical friendship to visitors from all over the world," she said.
As part of a thrilling night of entertainment, singer Brian Kennedy performed You Raise Me Up followed by Life, Love And Happiness, and The Voice winner Andrea Begley sang Angel, Songbird and Ho, Hey to close the ceremony.
Belfast Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir said the "colour, vitality and smiles" of the teams was just the boost the city needed.