Belfast Telegraph

PSNI aims to win wider public support at World Police and Fire Games

By Patrice Dougan

The law enforcement ‘Olympics’ will aim to increase support for policing in Northern Ireland and build community bonds with officers.

The World Police and Fire Games come to Belfast in 2013, and it is hoped the variety of sporting events will humanise police officers and firefighters with disenfranchised communities and help encourage support for the forces.

Officials from the World Police and Fire Games Federation are in the city this week to inspect the venues and facilities for the upcoming games.

They will be meeting with local representatives and organisers, to help plan the more than 60 different sports which will take place throughout the 10 days of the games.

The massive sporting event — the third largest in the world after the Olympics and World Masters — will come to Belfast next August, making the city only the third European host since the games started in 1985.

Often referred to as the ‘Olympics’ for serving and retired police, fire, prison and border security officers, the biennial sporting event sees athletes compete in a variety of individual and team sports.

Traditional sports such as athletics, football and boxing are included, as well as others unique to the games, like the ultimate firefighter challenge.

WPFG president Mike Graham said building community support for the police and other law enforcement agencies was a major factor in the games’ mission, particularly in Northern Ireland.

“What we do is build a bond in community relations, with community police and fire services, that didn’t exist before and that tends to be a lasting effect,” he said.

“We are absolutely interested in building these bonds in Northern Ireland, and that was one of the motivations — to build that community support.

“It’s quite different to see an officer in uniform than to see them as a citizen, as a normal human being involved in an athletic competition. It brings the community and the services closer.”\[s.rowe\]He said the fact all the sporting events will be free to watch, and held within close range in the city centre, would also help the general public feel a part of the WPFG.

“The other aspect is these games are run on volunteerism, so it’s a great opportunity for people, if they’re interested, to get involved more closely with their local police officers and fire-fighters and build a relationship with them,” he said.

Mr Graham said the games would also help generate national and international relationships between officers from different countries.

“It’s more than just playing to athletes strengths as an athlete, it’s also about camaraderie and opening their minds to other ways of life,” he said.

“The ordinary police officer on the street doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to meet their international colleagues, so this is an opportunity for them to see how many more similarities they have than differences.”

Mr Graham - a former deputy sheriff for Los Angeles - said plans for the 15th WPFG are “going perfectly”.

“We are really extremely excited about this, and can’t wait until next August,” he said.

“We are happy to be here, Belfast has done a wonderful job and Mary Peters is a wonderful patron of the games.”

Factfile

The World Police and Fire Games is a biennial event for law enforcement officers, including police, fire, customs, prison service and some smaller enforcement agencies. It first started in 1985 in San Jose, and aims to promote sport and fraternity within the police and firefighting communities. Belfast is set to host the WPFG in August 2013. The ‘Olympics’ of law enforcement are expected to draw 10,000 competitors and 15,000 spectators from over 70 different countries over 10 days of events. Athletes will compete in over 60 different sports at 35 locations, bringing in an estimated £15m to the region’s economy.

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