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Tuesday 16 January 2018

Threats from dissidents republicans won’t halt World Police and Fire Games

A masked member from the dissident Real IRA reads a statement to supporters at Creggan Cemetery, Derry (AP)
A masked member from the dissident Real IRA reads a statement to supporters at Creggan Cemetery, Derry (AP)

By Lesley-Anne McKeown, PA

THREATS from dissident republican terrorists and continuing flag protests have not deterred competitors from signing up for the World Police and Fire Games, a games chief said today.

Games president Mike Graham, from California, said he was confident organisers could attract their targeted 10,000 participants for the 10-day event in August.

"Everyone is convinced that they are coming and that the security forces in Northern Ireland will protect them and their families," said Mr Graham. "In the US we have demonstrations and parades all the time. Sometimes those demonstrations turn violent, sometimes they are large and sometimes they are small. It hasn't deterred anyone in America that I am aware of. In fact they are coming in larger percentage to Belfast than they went to Vancouver which is just across our border."

Belfast won the bid to stage the World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) -- the third largest multi-sport event next to the Olympics and World Masters -- in 2007.

Since November 5,822 people from USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany and Russia have registered to take part.

A small number of competitors will also travel from Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda and New Caledonia, an archipelago in the Pacific.

John Tully, chief executive of WPFG 2013 said they have had re-assure for those living closer to Northern Ireland about safety issues.

"Going forward our marketing plan for the games will very much focus on Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland to try and generate numbers from those regions. Some of the athletes from those regions have sought reassurance about the Belfast games following recent disturbances. We will focus on assuring those visitors that Belfast and Northern Ireland is a very safe and welcoming place and that we will have a fantastic sporting event in August," he said.

It will be the first time the games have been held in the UK and only the third visit to Europe in their 28 year history.

They are estimated to generate an additional £21.5 million for the local economy and it is hoped the 3,500 volunteers will help create an atmosphere similar to the London Olympics last year.

Sporting events will take place in Belfast, Ballykinler and on the north coast.

An opening ceremony will be held at the King's Hall in Belfast and the games will close with a procession on the Titanic Slipways.

Northern Ireland sports minister Caral Ni Chuilinan said sceptics were being proved wrong.

"We have much more work to do but, it is all going in the right direction. Despite a lot of challenges and just a wee bit of cynicism and negativity from some quarters, a lot of work in the pipeline is starting to unfold and people can now see what WPFG means for us."

The Minister said one of the most important legacies was involving people from disenfranchised areas in volunteering.

Meanwhile, German police officer and table tennis competitor Constanze Siefarth said she had no concerns about coming to Northern Ireland.

"We didn't even think about it. I wouldn't go anywhere if I was terrified. And, Belfast wouldn't get the games if there was any threat to those taking part. I am totally confident we will be well looked after," she said.

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