The date is July 22, 2022. Stadion Feijenoord (de Kuip) is full, the applause is rolling from the stands. It is the dreamed first day of the World Police & Fire Games (WPFG2022) in Rotterdam, and this time the applause is not intended for the soccer players of Feyenoord, but for the international participants of the WPFG2022. And especially for the work that those participants do in their daily lives. They're not just athletes, they're police officers, firefighters, customs officers and corrections services personnel.
“It would be great if we could give that to the participants as a gift,” says Eva van der Vegt, director of the WPFG2022. "A thank you with which we, and everyone in that stadium, want to say: thank you for your commitment to our safety." Van der Vegt thus immediately describes one of the goals of the event: showing respect for emergency workers. “In a fire or in riots or in an accident, they take that step forward, while we take a step back.”
The opening ceremony in Stadion Feijenoord should be the starting signal for a major World Police & Fire Games in Rotterdam. It is the first time that the WPFG is held in the Netherlands. The event originated in the United States in the 1980s. In 1985, the first edition was held in San José based on the idea that sports are good for the profession. Why couldn't it be turned into an international event with a competitive element? Since then, the WPFG has been held every two years (due to the corona pandemic, the edition in Rotterdam has been postponed from 2021 to 2022).
The WPFG has now grown into a mega event with approximately 10,000 participants. This makes it one of the largest multi-sports events in the world. And that event will last ten summer days, from 22 to 31 July, in Rotterdam. An athlete's village is being built on Willemsplein, next to the Maas River near the Spido. That's the scene of the WPFG's third goal: to meet. Emergency workers from all over the world meet there to exchange experiences and to talk to each other. Van der Vegt: “Everyone wears athletic gear, people see which country the other is from and then contacts are created automatically. Friendships are formed. But of course, that also happens during sports and we are working on creating side events to facilitate that.”
Gerard Bakx can talk about it. He is not only a board member of the WPFG2022 in Rotterdam, but also a participant of the previous edition in Chengdu, China. “You feel a connection that is difficult to explain. It has to do with the profession that we have,” says Bakx, who has worked in the prison system for almost forty years and has, among other things, been director of the umbrella organization of the three prisons in Rotterdam. “The atmosphere is really unique. There is relaxation, you follow each other and you can share what you are going through.”
Bakx took part in three running events in China (half marathon, 10 kilometers on the track and cross country) and achieved silver medals. At the WPFG2022, medals will be awarded in different age categories. “It is not an absolute top-class sport, but it will certainly be competitive,” said 67-year-old Bakx. “Suddenly I had a Russian competitor, when will you experience that?”