The date is July 21, 2022. The famous footballstadium De Kuip is packed, the applause is rolling from the stands. It is the dreamed first day of the World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) in Rotterdam, and this time the applause is not intended for the football players of the local heroes of Feyenoord, but for the international participants of the WPFG. And especially for the work that those participants do in their daily lives. They are not just athletes, they are police officers, firefighters, customs officers and prison guards.
“It would be great if we could give that to the participants as a gift,” says Eva van der Vegt, director of the WPFG 2022. "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 describes immediately one of the goals of the event: showing respect for emergency workers. “They
take that step forward in a fire or in riots or in an accident, while we take a step back.”
The opening ceremony in the Feijenoord stadium should be the starting signal for a major World Police and Fire Games in Rotterdam. It is the first time that the WPFG is held in the Netherlands. The event has its origins 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 be in Rotterdam for ten wonderful summer days, from 22 till 31 July. An athlete's village is being built on Willemsplein, at the banks of the river the Maas near the boat sightseeing service of Spido. That's the scene of the WPFG's third goal: to meet. Aid workers from all over the world meet there to exchange experiences and to talk to each other. Van der Vegt: “Everyone walks in their sports clothing, people see from which country the other competitor 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 is someone who knows what he is talking about. He is not only a board member of the WPFG 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 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 WPFG, medals are awarded in different age categories. “It is not a sports event where the best athletes of the world are present, but it will certainly be competitive,” said 67-year-old Bakx. “Suddenly I had a Russian competitor, when does that happen at other events?”
The international character of the event will blend in with the local environment in Rotterdam. Inhabitants of the second largest city in the Netherlands, spectators and other interested parties will have the opportunity to see the action. Entrance is free. Not only in the well-known sports such as football, volleyball or swimming, but also in the less obvious sports. At the WPFG 2022 there are 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 racing, stair climbing, dodgeball (the old-fashioned 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 riverboat 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 holding at the WPFG 2022.”
The event uses existing locations, no new accommodations will be built. This is possible, because the sporting infrastructure in Rotterdam and the surrounding area is top of the bill: hockey fields, basketball halls, a rowing course. Much is used already by the local sportorganizations. The city itself will also be the setting for the sport. Sports and demonstrations will take place in the central locations of the Binnenrotte and the shopping lane, the Koopgoot. “People from Rotterdam need to know that something beautiful is going on, of which they can be part of. 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, running out of an incident? 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 that the WPFG 2022 is all about. Bakx: “Every service knows: sport stands for vitality, whether it's the police, prison guards or fire brigade. It is important to propagate that. And also to tell the story behind the aid. 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!”