World Police and Fire Games opening ceremony takes place in Belfast

The opening ceremony of Northern Ireland's biggest ever sporting event takes place in Belfast.

The opening ceremony for the World Police and Fire Games 2013 has taken place in Belfast.

It is the first time the 10-day event has been held in the United Kingdom, and 6,700 international competitors have entered.

It is the largest sporting event to take place in Northern Ireland.

Over the next 10 days, competitors from 67 countries will take part in sports ranging from wrist wrestling to the "toughest competitor alive" contest.

The outdoor ceremony took place in the grounds of the King's Hall in south Belfast and the crowds were entertained for hours with live music, dancing and acrobatic performances.

The ceremony was addressed by Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, who both welcomed international teams who had travelled for the competition.

'Unimaginable'

Mr Robinson said: "As first minister of Northern Ireland can I especially express my tribute to those who are in the service of the police, the fire and the prison service, for the job that they have done in making our villages, our towns and our cities a safer place."

Mr McGuiness told the crowd that staging the World Police and Fire Games in Northern Ireland would have been "unimaginable" just 10 or 15 years ago.

WPFG cauldron The cauldron was lit by Dame Mary Peters, patron of the 2013 Games

"This is a country at peace, this is a country looking very much to the future," the deputy first minister said.

Northern Ireland's best known Olympian, Dame Mary Peters, who is patron of WPFG 2013 was presented with a torch known as the Flame of Hope at the climax of the ceremony.

With the torch, she lit a caldron that will burn throughout the duration of the 10-day event.

Over the course of the games, police officers, prison officers and firefighters from across the world will compete in 56 different sports at 42 different venues.

The largest contingent of athletes is from America.

The ice hockey tournament and some other events, such as handball, started before the official opening of the games.

John Tully, chief executive of the games, said: "This is very much about welcoming the athletes and getting the games off to a fantastic start. All the events are free and the majority are accessible to the public, so it is a real opportunity for people to come along.

"We have 10 days of sporting competition and there is a huge sense of vibrancy and colour in the city. It has really set the tone for the friendliest games. I am very confident that we are going to have tremendous games in the days ahead."

Preparations for the games began six years ago.

Extra police officers from Great Britain have been called in to help with security. About 30 officers, mostly dog-handlers, have been brought to Northern Ireland.

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