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Tap potential

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There’s a push on to better develop sports tourism in Rainy River District—and for good reason. It provides a major financial shot-in-the-arm that cannot be ignored.

The Dudley Hewitt Cup, which Fort Frances hosted last year, reportedly injected more than $200,000 into the local economy. Back in 2003, it was calculated that the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship brought it more than $300,000 over the week-long event.

Next March, Fort Frances once again will host the OFSAA boys’ hockey championship—which is sure to mean big bucks to local hotels and eateries as up to 19 teams will be here for the three- or four-day tournament.

People may not fully realize just how much “sports tourism” actually goes on here each year. There is the FFCBC each July, of course, as well as the fledgling International Dragon Boat Festival in late June. But there’s also a plethora of minor hockey tournaments throughout the winter, not to mention curling bonspiels and tournaments/meets ranging from swimming and figure skating to badminton, bowling, darts, squash, and judo.

All of these bring visitors—whether as participants or spectators—and, most importantly, their wallets to our community.

The district also is blessed with a myriad of top-notch assets, including arenas, curling clubs, golf courses, squash courts, cross-country ski trails, snowmobile trails, gymnasiums, and a swimming pool. We have soccer pitches and ball diamonds, along with a bowling alley, skate park, and skeet range and—hopefully—four new tennis courts in the near future.

There’s the Emo Speedway and a moto-cross track, and a horse show grounds. The Sister Kennedy Centre to host seniors’ games. And let’s not forget our beautiful lakes/river that offer opportunities for fishing, sailing, and rowing.

Expanding sports tourism here won’t be a slam dunk, however. Volunteer “burn-out” is hindering many of the events we already do stage. There’s a limited pool to tap locally for the all-important sponsorships/donations needed to run events. There’s the cost involved to take part and a seeming growing apathy among local residents to show their support by attending them.

Then there’s the irony that this sports tourism push is coming as Fort Frances continues to have no recreation committee, which the town disbanded some time ago due to a lack of interest.

Clearly, a broad organizing committee or advisory panel, preferably at arm’s-length but perhaps under the umbrella of the town, will need to be made up of club reps and other citizen volunteers to plan and co-ordinate how best to enhance sports tourism here.

All of these barriers—and more—will need to be overcome. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

In fact, no stone should go unturned in order to tap the enormous potential sports tourism offers our district.

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