- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Washington area may have been snubbed in the fight to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, but Northern Virginia is quietly gearing up to host a massive sporting event that rivals the games in size.

A thick blue line of police officers and a battalion of firefighter brigades from around the world will be mustering in Fairfax as Northern Virginia prepares to host what organizers are billing as one of the world’s largest multisport events, the 16th World Police and Fire Games.

“These games will be one of the largest events in Fairfax County up to this point,” said Tony Shobe, director of sports for Fairfax 2015 Inc., the nonprofit established to oversee the games. “For those in the area, it’ll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

For participants like Nicholas Andariese, who works in the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, the games will offer a chance to get back to a sport — baseball — he gave up when he went into law enforcement as a career. Mr. Andariese said he heard about the police and firefighters event just a few years ago while in the academy, admitting, “I didn’t know how big it was.”

“I played [baseball] in college, though I didn’t pursue it through college,” he said. “I figured that the games were a great opportunity to play with people from all over the world at a competitive level, which I haven’t really done since college.”

He said his team has shown a lot of dedication and schedule-juggling just to qualify for the competition.

“We have to take leaves, we have to go to practice, get equipment and arrange around each other’s schedules,” Mr. Andariese said. “We got a lot of great talent on the team, a lot of drive and motivation. However, I’m pretty sure that the first time we’ll see each other as a full team will be game one.”

Organizers, meanwhile, acknowledge they face a major logistical challenge housing, feeding and transporting an expected 12,000-plus active-duty and retired public safety personnel coming from more than 70 countries. There will be more than 60 competitions, ranging from the traditional — track and field, boxing, ice hockey and archery — to the less-traditional angling, paintball and pocket billiards. There will be more than 1,600 separate medal events.

Organizers are also recruiting an army of some 4,000 volunteers just to make sure the games, held every two years at a host site around the world, go smoothly.

The Fairfax event will be the first time that the games will be hosted in a suburban area. All the other locations have been in more centralized cities. There will be 53 venues around the Fairfax area, including George Mason University, the Fairfax County Criminal Justice Track and Range and Lerner Town Square. The Athletes Village and Games Expo will be at the Reston Town Center.

Fairfax has tremendous resources. The fact that it’s a key part of the national capital region made it a very attractive destination,” said WPFG President and CEO Bill Knight. “It has its challenges being more suburban in comparison to urban. The region is a very multifaceted region. That adds complications to the organization.”

Games’ organizers are drawing on some of the region’s existing assets.

Opening ceremonies for the games will be at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium on June 26, and the closing ceremonies will be held at the Wolf Trap performing arts center on July 5 as Fairfax itself doesn’t have a large arena to host such events.

Going for the gold

The games give police officers, firefighters and other public safety officers from around the world a chance to participate in international sporting events that showcase their athletic ability in Olympic-like events. As in the Olympics, athletes compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in the 61 events.

All events are open and free for the public to enjoy. Games will include both summer sports and ice hockey. Unlike the Olympics, the WPFG events that aren’t hosted at the Olympics including dodgeball, rifle and ammunition competitions and baseball. There are also events that are unique to public safety officials, such as ultimate firefighter, stair racing and an event in which working police dogs are put to a skills test.

The dogs are judged on their ability to read signals from their trainers, to obey commands and to navigate their way through an obstacle course that includes crawling through barrels and tunnels and walking on narrow platforms.

Vice President of Operations Bruce Blechl and Director Jerome Williams said they decided to bring the event to their Fairfax home after meeting while competing in the WPFG in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1999.

“It took us being halfway around the world to bring it to Fairfax,” said Mr. Blechl.

The games are organized by the World Police & Fire Games Federation, headquartered in San Diego. They have occurred every two years since the inaugural 1985 event in San Jose, California, in cities across the world. Past host cities have included Melbourne, Barcelona and Belfast. The largest WPFG was held in New York City in 2011, with over 16,000 athletes.

Both men and women are eligible to compete as long as they are at least 18 years old, have formal training as a law enforcement officer or firefighter and are a current or retired public safety officer.

The athletes will be hosted at 130 hotels around the Washington region. Athletes can choose where to stay and will be transported to and from their sports venues out of nine transportation hubs using school buses. They are expected to pay for their own hotel, transportation to Fairfax, registration and sports-specific fees.

The games are funded by corporate and public sponsorships. Fairfax County is the largest public funder of the $15 million budget. There is a “merchant incentive program” to promote community engagement to get local businesses to participate and ensure the community is aware of the games.

Mr. Knight’s hope is that the program will create an environment that welcomes athletes from all over the world and allows residents to become “ambassadors” for Fairfax County. He estimates that the primary economic impact of the games will be between $60 million and $80 million.

WPFG is also calling on residents to volunteer in the games.

“Volunteers are the spirit of the games,” said Mr. Knight. “For any games of this matter, they are the No. 1 resource. We rely on them even more heavily because these games operate under a much more modest budget than other games of this size.”

“We’ve got a lot of diversity in this area,” he added. “At the end of the day, we need to welcome the world. This is our opportunity to do that.”

Volunteers are asked to work four shifts over the ten days the games will be held, assisting in almost every aspect including protocol, language services, registration and answering questions on-site. Those looking to help out can check out the WPFG website at https://fairfax2015.com/volunteer.

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