World Police and Fire Games competitors 50% below target

World Police & Fire Games The cost of staging the competition in Northern Ireland is estimated at almost £14m.

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The organisers of the World Police and Fire Games have confirmed the number of athletes who have signed up to take part is almost 50% below target.

With 10 weeks to go to the Belfast games, 5,047 competitors have registered so far - just over half of the 10,000 target.

Teams are being urged to get their entries in by the end of this week.

The games, being held in August, are billed as one of the biggest tourist events ever held in Northern Ireland.

The chief executive of the games, John Tully, said they were on track to deliver "a fantastic sporting event".

"We have, in fact, 7,300 athletes on our books today," he said.

"That's a combination of the 5,000 individual competitors, but there's also a number of team captains there who are currently holding places for their team members.

"There's over 70 days to go and we would expect that number to grow right up until August.

"The federation in San Diego, who have been running these games since 1985, their experience is that registrations are always late."

The cost of staging the competition is estimated at £13.8m.

About half of that amount (£6.88m) is coming from the public purse, through Stormont's Department of Culture Arts and Leisure (DCAL).

The department has told the BBC it is currently undertaking a review of the business case.

The organisers have always said they expected 10,000 competitors to register for the event in Northern Ireland - with police, fire and prison officers coming from 50 different countries.

It was anticipated the competition would generate about £20m for the local economy, with thousands of athletes' family members accompanying them to Northern Ireland.

Economist John Simpson said: "It looks as if the original estimate of 10,000 competitors has been too high. I think we ought to talk now about us having a series of games where there will be fewer competitors than the organisers originally hoped."

It was anticipated the competition will generate about £20m for the local economy, with thousands of athletes' family members accompanying them to Northern Ireland.

Sports Minister Carál Ni Chuilín was unavailable for comment.

A spokesperson for DCAL said: "The targets remain as set out in the business case and are under continuous review in light of updated athlete registration numbers."

The business plan of April 2012 said one of the aims is to achieve the sale of 180,000 bed nights in hotels and other accommodation for the duration of the games.

While some people have been making their own accommodation arrangements - so far the figures for groups booking through official channels show 40,000 bed nights have been reserved, about a quarter of the target set in April last year.

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