Northern Ireland has sporting chance of economic boost
Belfast Briefing: The 10-day World Police & Fire Games could attract up to 25,000 visitors
John Tully, chief executive of 2013 WPFG. The World Police & Fire Games is a biennial event for serving and retired police, fire, prison and border security officers. It is the third-largest international multisport event in the world. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA
Northern Ireland is warming up to hosting its largest sporting event on record, and organisers hope it will deliver a £15.5 million (€18 million) boost for the local economy this summer.
The 2013 World Police & Fire Games (WPFG) kick off on Thursday with an opening ceremony that is expected to attract thousands of visitors to Belfast. It will be the first time that the games, a biennial event for serving and retired police, fire, prison and border security officers, have been held in the UK.
Organisers hope that more than 7,000 competitors and their friends and families from more than 60 countries will travel to the North to participate in and support the games.
It has been estimated that the 10-day event could attract a potential 25,000 visitors, which puts the economic hyperventilating over US president Barack Obama’s recent visit in the shade.
That is not to say that Northern Ireland will not have to pay for the pleasure of hosting the WPFG.
The North’s Executive committed more than £6 million of public money to the games and local sponsors have contributed £1.6 million in sponsorship. The overall budget for the WPFG is estimated to be close to £14 million but the shortfall – according to the private company set up to deliver the games by the North’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure – will come from “the stakeholder organisations, competitors’ fees and other income-generating activities”.
The Northern-registered company, 2013 WPFG, chaired by Judith Gillespie, deputy chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, believes the 10-day event will generate “significant benefits” for the local economy.
“The games will provide a tremendous opportunity to showcase the very best of Northern Ireland to an international audience both as an attractive place to visit and as an ideal location to facilitate events of international significance,” says Gillespie.
The company organising the games has been keen to play up the commercial opportunities the event should generate, particularly for the service sector, which includes hotels, restaurants, shops and visitor attractions.
Northern Ireland businesses have had the opportunity to supply transport, food, drink, clothing and other goods and services for the games.
Official figures from the last three WPFG events suggest that the average spend per person attending the games was more than €200 per day.
Whether Northern Ireland enjoys this kind of revenue remains to be seen. But the fact that the games are taking place in the North at all is a welcome vote of confidence despite the often violent protests this year that have not helped its image.
The irony of serving and retired police officers coming from around the globe to compete with their counterparts in a region where the local police force has come under attack from its own communities will not be lost on some.
But the games present Northern Ireland with yet another “amazing opportunity . . . to reap the benefits of an international spotlight shining on us”, according to Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.
It could not come at a better time because tourism is becoming an increasingly crucial part of the local economic recovery programme.
Latest figures show that overall tourist spend grew by 7 per cent between 2011 and 2012, delivering £683 million to the economy.
Evidence suggests Northern Ireland is becoming an increasingly attractive holiday destination for its neighbours.
Figures show 60,000 more people visited Northern Ireland from the Republic in 2012 compared to the previous year. The 430,000 visitors who came from the South spent an estimated £70 million.