Organizers of the 2023 World Police and Fire Games have lowered their expectations for the number of athletes who will participate in the athletic tournament slated to begin Friday in Winnipeg.
One year ago, the games expected 8,500 athletes to participate in the 10-day event, not including their friends and family members.
Organizers are still sticking with the 8,500-participant figure — but are now including officials, friends and family in that tally.
“We will hit that number,” chief operating officer Mike Edwards said Monday in an interview, declining to state how many athletes alone will participate at the games.
“I don’t know yet just because registration is still open. So until we have that closed, which can happen for some sports all the way up until the end, I don’t want to provide anything that is inaccurate at this time.”
To date, the largest athletic tournament ever held in Winnipeg was the 1999 Pan American Games. That 17-day event saw 5,083 athletes from the western hemisphere participate in 34 sports, most of which were also Olympic events.
The 2023 World Police and Fire Games will feature 63 different sports, made up of a mix of common sports and less conventional competitions such as a stair race, a beanbag game called cornhole and an event called TCA, or “toughest competitor alive.”
Events adjusted for fewer teams
Edwards said participation is expected to be stronger for individual events than it will be for some team events, explaining it is difficult for emergency responders who play as a team to be able to get holiday time simultaneously.
“To take an entire hockey team or the baseball team from one service does pose challenges, so the athletes have just been redirecting themselves to sports that allow them to make it easier to register,” he said.
No events have been cancelled, but some, he said, have been adjusted to accommodate fewer teams.
In 1999, athletes from 42 countries participated in Winnipeg’s Pan Am Games. Edwards said athletes from 70 countries will take part in the World Police and Fire Games, but would not disclose the identity of those nations.
“We don’t provide that list just because it’s ever growing and changing,” he said, promising to list the countries after the games are completed.
“When it comes to privacy acts from other countries that we are bound by as an international organization, we have to go with the most strict and right now, that is where we are at.”
Hotels in Winnipeg are most looking forward to the international participants, as they’ll make the largest financial impact on the hospitality industry, said Michael Juce, president and CEO of the Manitoba Hotel Association.
Nonetheless, he said it will several months to discern the precise effect of the games on hotel occupancy.
The hotel sector in Winnipeg was already doing well this year because of what he described as an unfortunate windfall: An uptick in short stays by newly landed refugees from the war in Ukraine.
Games free for spectators
Attendance to all competitions at the 2023 World Police and Fire Games is free. Organizers are also inviting the public to observe an athletes’ parade which starts at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at True North Square and proceeds along Carlton Street.
The games are also holding a nightly “athletes’ village” at the CN Stage at The Forks, but attendance to this gathering is restricted to athletes, officials and registered friends and family.
“It’s really the place where the camaraderie of the first responders comes together,” Edwards said. “It’s the central meeting point, especially outside of competition, for all athletes and accredited family and friends.”
A space outside every event, including the athletes’ village, will be set aside for protesters, he added.
“We want to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to have their freedom of expression rights enabled and that we’re not hindering that in any way,” said Edwards, adding athletes should not be hindered as well.
“There’s obviously a level of respect and consideration for these high-performing athletes in an athletic competition. You know first and foremost we are an athletic organization and so we want to make sure that the integrity of sport and the integrity of the athletic competition is maintained.”
A small group of protesters chanted and booed one year ago when games organizers held a press conference at True North Square. In recent months, posters have appeared on some light standards in downtown Winnipeg urging the city to cancel the games.