World Police and Fire Games in Fairfax may fall short of participation projections

WASHINGTON — With less than a month until its opening ceremony, the World Police and Fire Games in Fairfax is on track to draw about 85 percent of the number of athletes and visitors that organizers had anticipated.

Ahead of registration closing on Sunday for a number of sports, Fairfax 2015 Director of Sports 2nd Lt. Tony Shobe says 8,742 athletes from 64 countries have registered to compete in the games as of 1 p.m. Wednesday.

Shobe says he expects that will lead to about 10,000 total competitors in the games, and 20,000 to 25,000 total visitors.

Organizers had hoped for more than 12,000 athletes and more than 30,000 visitors.

“It’ll still be a fantastic celebration … the one unforeseen problem that we had that we couldn’t do anything with was that the dollar is very strong right now … making it very cost-prohibitive for [foreign athletes] to travel to the U.S. right now,” Shobe says.

He says the economic impact from the athletes and visitors in the D.C. area from the last week of June through the first week of July will be seen at restaurants, hotels and elsewhere.

The athletes must pay their own ways, but there are groups raising money to help athletes who might not otherwise be able to afford to come to the games.

One, Helping Hellenic HEROes, is organized by Fairfax County employee Dianne Katsakis Quebral. She wants to help Greek competitors come to the games.

She says her group has raised $20,000 in contributions to help 32 firefighters and 21 police officers who had already bought plane tickets to the games. The funds will help cover their food and hotel bills while in the U.S.

The group is having another fundraiser Thursday evening at Fire Station 40.

In past games, registration for most or all sports remained open until the first days of the games, allowing competitors to register on site. This time, Shobe says the decision was made to close some sport registration periods earlier so that brackets and staffing could be set ahead of time.

Registration has already closed for badminton, CrossFit, golf, ice hockey, rugby and some other events, but Shobe says some exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis.

Registration for almost 30 sports closes Sunday, May 31. Any sworn first responder is eligible.

Other sports, such as some of the running events, will be open until just a few days before the events actually take place.

“As we get closer, things get a little bit more hectic, but things are coming more into focus,” Shobe says of the final planning process.

As officials are assigned to the contests, and about 4,000 volunteers come in for training, Shobe says “a whole ‘nother level of work is just starting.”

Shobe is detailed to the games from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office, and knows that even the best planning cannot account for everything.

“You’ve got some variables that really are beyond your control, we have the weather … pop-up thunderstorms this time of year as well as the heat and humidity that a lot of our friends from Europe and other parts of the world are not going to be quite ready for when they get here,” he says.

There are rain dates built into the schedule for outdoor events, and emergency responders who are on duty will be available to assist competitors and fans.

The games’ opening ceremony is at 6 p.m. at R.F.K. Stadium on June 26.

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