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Run-up to international multi-sport event | CBC News

Run-up to international multi-sport event | CBC News

Winnipeg is a year away from hosting an international sporting event that features more athletes than any other competition but the Summer Olympics.

More than 8,500 athletes are expected to compete in the World Police and Fire Games starting in July of next year.

“Many citizens interact with law enforcement, police officers and firefighters on some of their worst days,” Chad Swayze, a Winnipeg firefighter and chair of the WPFG Host Society, said at a media event to celebrate the multi-sport affair being one year out.

“This event will highlight the person behind the badge, the person under that helmet.”

The 10-day, Olympic-style event will feature athletes from more than 55 countries competing in more than 60 sports across 40 venues in Winnipeg and across Manitoba.

The Games will have “8,500 athletes and $85-million impact to our community — if that isn’t poetry, I don’t know what is.” Liberal MP Terry Duguid said at the event, held at True North Square.

Not everybody was feeling celebratory.

Speakers faced chants and boos from a small but vocal protest of around a dozen people led by Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH). The police abolitionist group wants the Games cancelled, with one member saying we shouldn’t celebrate a policing system that does people wrong.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is excited to bring more than 8,500 participants from around the world to the 2023 World Police and Fire Games when the event is held in Winnipeg. (Ian Froese/CBC)

In an interview, Mike Edwards, chief operating officer for the Games, stressed he’s involved in an athletic organization putting on an athletic event.

“The vast majority of law enforcement are good, right, and they do good for the community,” he said.

“What’s great about the law enforcement community is that they acknowledge that nobody is perfect and they make those steps and they make those corrections.” he said.

Edwards says he’s excited to show off the athletic prowess of people in uniform.

“We want to highlight … the athleticism and the hard work and dedication that goes in to what they do and how they protect the community.

High-calibre athletes

“At the end of the day, these are the people that are running into the fires when our houses are burning down and bringing us out. Those are the people that are running between an individual with a knife or a weapon and protecting our lives.”

He said these occupations tend to attract high-end athletes, including those who competed in professional leagues such as the National Hockey League or large-scale competitions ranging from the Olympics to the Pan American Games.

The competitors will pay their own way to the Games, and for their families to tag along, too.

“They turn it into a vacation,” Edwards said. “The tourism dollars that extend from that is even more massive.”

Edwards says the $85-million economic impact will be spread around, rather than being concentrated in a single location. The athletes will stay in more than 30 hotels, and they’ll visit many restaurants, bars and attractions. 

“To have 8,500 athletes, plus their family and friends, dressed and walking throughout the city in … their uniforms — it changes the energy, it changes the atmosphere of the entire city.”

In comparison, 5,083 athletes came to town for the 1999 Pan Am Games, and more than 4,000 participants were part of the Canada Summer Games in 2017.

The operating budget for the Games is expected in the range of $16-17 million.

Protesters with Winnipeg Police Cause Harm make their voices heard at True North Square, where a media event to mark being one year away from the 2023 World Police and Fire Games was held. (Ian Froese/CBC)

All events will be free to attend, and more than 3,500 volunteers will be needed to pull it off, organizers say.

Despite the event’s economic impact, Daniel Stephens, one of the protesters, called the multi-sport event an “unconscionable waste of money.” 

“We already spend nearly a third of our city budget on policing. Why are we spending $17 million more to throw them a party, basically? Why do they deserve that when we have a housing crisis, we have an overdose crisis and we are basically doing nothing about the pandemic, which is still ongoing,” said Stephens, an organizer with WPCH.

He says the economic benefit arising from the Games won’t go to the people who need it the most, including those who do not have a roof over their heads.