“What do you call a Linfield fan with a bottle of champagne? — ‘Waiter!'” Just one of the jokes from comedian and actor Tim McGarry as he warmed up a crowd of around 3000 members of Team 2013. The volunteers gathered at the King’s Hall in Belfast for a bonding session designed to explain their roles in the forthcoming World Police and Fire Games.
Around 3500 have been recruited after undergoing an initial interview. They have now been assigned to sixteen teams, each with a specific role such as ceremonies, games administration and medals. As President of Belfast Lions Club, I have offered my services. I have been assigned not to a media role but rather to the logistics team to assist with event management at some of the venues and to deliver equipment and logistics across the Games, a job that will be done by the transport section, which a former colleague of mine in RTÉ will be involved with. I met him amidst the crowd at the induction, which was also attended by my wife who will be joining the Games Ambassador team.
It was a fun occasion and the organisers are determined to make these the friendliest Games ever. Around 7000 competitors from 60 countries will be participating in the event from August 1st-10th, so final preparations are being made over the next 38 days including training for volunteers in their specific roles. After that the volunteers will receive their bright red uniforms, examples of which were modelled for the audience.
The visitors are expected to bring family and friends with them, so it will be quite a boost for the Northern Ireland tourist industry. 56 sports will be held at over 40 venues, many of them in the greater Belfast area, but spread throughout the North. The new Aurora aquatic and leisure complex in Bangor with its 50m Olympic pool will be used for swimming, waterpolo, netball, bench press, push pull, and Toughest Competitor Alive.
Dame Mary Peters who helped the local organisers persuade the WPFG international committee to bring the Games here said they would be the largest ever sporting event in Northern Ireland. Belfast had been shortlisted with Innsbruck in Austria, but won because of the enthusiasm and integrity they had shown in their bid. She said the event would help to enhance the profile of Norn Iron internationally.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland PSNI are one of the services hosting the games along with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service NIFRS and the NI Prison Service. Deputy Chief Constable Judith Gillespie said she was immensely proud to be hosting the Games as a Belfast girl. She is a former pupil of Belfast Royal Academy, as she reminded readers of her blog in April.
The Fire and Rescue Service training centre at Boucher Road in Belfast is where the interviews for potential volunteers were carried out: some 6000 people applied originally. It will also be used for some of the training sessions for the different teams of volunteers over the next few weeks. At Custom House Square in Belfast city centre a tented village will be set up where the competitors can gather and get to know each other at the end of the events they take part in.
The second half of the Saturday afternoon session (after a much needed break facilitated by one of the main sponsors Coca-Cola) was introduced by mind-reader, entertainer and speaker David Meade, keeping the large crowd enthralled. Afterwards came speakers representing each of the 16 teams. South Belfast MLA Conall McDevitt is among the team of volunteers and did his best to energise the audience, some of whom had drifted away by that stage. The closing speech was given by the chief executive of Volunteer Now, Wendy Osborne. Roll on the Games!