Downtown Winnipeg saw thousands of first responders from across Canada and the world as they headed to the opening ceremony of the World Police and Fire Games Friday night.
“This is a great experience,” said Leah Berti from the Calgary Police Service. “It’s awesome to have all these different countries supporting, you know, health, fitness, and bringing people together.”
Athletes from law enforcement, firefighting, and other first response agencies were marshaled from the RBC Convention Centre to the Canada Life Centre to kick off the 2023 Games.
The Olympic-style competition was expected to bring more than 8,500 participants — including friends and family of competitors — from more than 70 countries.
Active and retired first responders will participate in the competition.
“Win or lose, we’re having a great time … but a win would just be the icing on the cake,” said Berti, who is one of 10 volleyball players from the Calgary Police Service competing this year.
Her teammate and colleague, Kendra Laustsen, said the Games gives first responders a chance to connect with others who share her interests — both as a member of the police service and a fan of volleyball.
“We all have a commonality with first responding, and so we see and we deal with situations that aren’t average,” she said.
“With mental health, you need to balance. You need to have those outlets and be able to form friendships, and have ways to de-stress — and sport is definitely one of those.”
Organizers estimate the Games will generate $85 million for the local economy.
Leslie Lynas, a 63-year-old retiree from the Northern Ireland Police Service, is excited for the chance to explore Winnipeg over the course of the competition.
“Winnipeg is a beautiful city. The people here are amazing,” he said.
“I want to get out and about and meet the people.”
Lynas said this will be his sixth time golfing at the Games, and he’s made lots of new friends along the way.
“It’s a chance for all of us to get together [and] talk about experiences. We do have a lot in common,” he said.
More than 60 different sports are being showcased at the Games this year, and Winnipeg fire-paramedic Sehaj Jawanda is playing in four of them — five-on-five and three-on-three basketball, flag football and pickleball.
LISTEN | Faith Fundal talks to multi-sport athlete Sehaj Jawanda:
Up To Speed4:54A Winnipeg Fire Paramedic is competing in multiple sports during the World Police and Fire Games
While the Games are a way to bring his whole city together, finding the time to practise has posed a challenge.
“It’s all shift work, so it does bring challenges, however, you know, we keep in mind that we play sports for self improvement, relieve some of that stress from work,” Jawanda told CBC on Up to Speed on Friday.
Games ‘totally inappropriate’: protester
Cyclists protesting the Games also made their way through downtown Winnipeg Friday night.
A monthly mass bike ride, in collaboration with the police abolitionist group, Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, brought about 100 cyclists to Hargrave Street shortly before the athletes made their way toward the opening ceremony venue.
Buck Doyle, Winnipeg Police Cause Harm member, said the city shouldn’t be glorifying police, especially during a time when calls for social change are top of mind for some.
“The city should not be contributing massive amounts of funding to this when there’s so many other valuable things that really are urgently needed,” he told CBC on Friday.
“All these social crises are at the forefront here, and just funding a giant, like, Olympics for the police is really totally inappropriate.”
The group has stood against the Games before, booing when organizers held a news conference for the Games at True North Square one year ago.
Posters denouncing the Games have also been taped up around the city’s core.
Doyle said having thousands of police in the city can be frightening for some people.
“That’s scary. Police are violent, like we don’t want more police on the streets,” added Doyle.
“Having a giant collection of police actually increases danger for the most vulnerable people,” he said, noting Camp Marcedes, which was set up earlier this month to raise awareness about calls to search a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations women, is located near the athletes’ village at The Forks.
The Games run July 28 to Aug. 6 at various venues throughout the city.
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