Sportsmanship and respect for emergency workers central at World Police & Fire Games Rotterdam 2022

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).

Athletes Village
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?”
Free entrance
The international character of the event will blend in with the local environment in Rotterdam. Rotterdammers, spectators and other interested parties, for example, will have the opportunity to see the many participants in action. Entrance is free. Not only in the well-known sports such as soccer, volleyball or swimming, but also in the less obvious sports. The WPFG2022 will compete in no fewer than 63 different sports. Ultimate firefighter for example or muster, both originated from the fire service. Muster is a combination of physical elements that are traditionally important for the fire service, such as the rolling out of the fire hose and the driving out of the cart on which the hose is located. Those elements are now practiced in competition form.

There are sports such as dragon boat, stair race, dodgeball (the old dodgeball that was, and is played in the Netherlands mainly during gym classes at school, but which is a real sport in the United States). “And we can add a few sports ourselves,” explains Van der Vegt. “That would be boat rowing, for example. This originated with the police, for people with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). They achieve very good results. We also think it is important to pay attention to such subjects. And we have the dog biathlon, an annual police event that we will also be organizing at WPFG2022."

The event uses existing locations, no new accommodations or venues are being built. This is possible, because the sporting infrastructure in Rotterdam and the surrounding area is in order: hockey fields, basketball halls, a rowing course. There is a lot available. The city itself is also the setting for the sport.

Sports and demonstrations will take place on the Binnenrotte, a street in the heart of Rotterdam. “People from Rotterdam need to realize that something beautiful is going on, of which they can be a part. Isn't it nice when fathers and mothers walk through the city with their children and can see and experience for themselves what it means to carry a dummy doll? And the economic impact is important. We have calculated that this amounts to 8 million euros for the city.”

So sportsmanship, respect and meeting each other. Those are the three goals of the WPFG2022. Bakx: “Every service knows: sport stands for vitality, whether it's the police, customs, the prison system or the fire brigade. It is important to propagate that. And also to tell the story behind the assistance. Show respect for healthcare providers. What happens in prison is of course less visible to people, but the same is happening there as on the street.” Whether he participates in his own Rotterdam? “If possible, I would like to try that, yes. It is addictive, such an event!”

Author: Walter Tempelman