WTG2019 leaves lasting impression on the North East

3rd September 2019

Inspirational examples of human courage and physical fitness were celebrated across the North East as the World Transplant Games came to the region.

Nearly 1,500 athletes from over 50 countries competed at iconic sporting venues around the North East. The cycling time trial took place around the Newcastle and Gateshead Quaysides, golf at Close House, darts at St James’ Park, swimming at Sunderland Aquatic Centre and athletics, football, volleyball and archery at Gateshead International Stadium.

Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland came out on top of the medals table with a truly impressive haul of 205 gold, 152 silver and 127 bronze. Second place with 67 gold, 51 silver and 38 bronze were the team from the USA, with Islamic Republic of Iran 3rd, Canada 4th and South Africa in 5th place.

More importantly the Games highlighted the value of organ donation and the second chance of life that competing athletes had been given. In the run-up to the Games a memorial baton celebrating organ donation travelled around England visiting transplant centres for a series of NHS Organ Donation showcase events. ‘Tom’s Baton’ was created in memory of Tom Wilson, a talented hockey player who lost his life in 2015 in a freak accident. At the start of Tom’s Baton Relay in London was Fatima the recipient of Tom’s liver and to receive that baton at the relay finish in Newcastle was Gordon who received Tom’s heart.

As well as the sporting action, athletes also enjoyed cultural events as part of the Games. A colourful athletes parade took place on the opening day with Newcastle City Centre packed full of national flags and crowds of supporters. During the week, Life Science Centre was the venue for a private celebration of the Games with a variety of interactive cultural activities for all ages to enjoy. After a hard week of competition, the athletes came together to celebrate their achievements at the magical closing ceremony at the Utilita Arena with entertainment provided by the fabulous Bootleg Beatles.

Chris Thomas, President of the World Transplant Games Federation (WTGF), said: “The World Transplant Games as a global sporting event came of age at these games in NewcastleGateshead. We can’t underestimate the importance of running a professional sports programme. Many of our athletes returned world class performances and take their sport extremely seriously. The fact that NewcastleGateshead Initiative and MLS ran the sports and the Games logistics extremely efficiently was appreciated by all participants. It set the tone for a successful week with wonderful media coverage. These Games have definitely demonstrated the tangible benefits of organ donation and transplantation. Those tangible benefits were clear for all to see with the thousands of lives saved and the thousands of lives celebrated. Thank you Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland.”

As well as those participating, over 800 volunteers signed-up and played a crucial role in supporting the Games and help spread the word about organ donation. Team 19 volunteers could be seen throughout the region, at registration, hotels and events, helping athletes and their supporters, and generally providing a warm Geordie welcome.

Another popular figure throughout the week was World Transplant Games mascot, Hope, who was present at many of the events encouraging, participating and interacting with the crowds. Hope, a transplant athlete dog, was inspired by designs from schoolchildren across the region.

The World Transplant Games NewcastleGateshead 2019 were delivered by destination management and marketing organisation NewcastleGateshead Initiative on behalf of the World Transplant Games Federation and UK charity Transplant Sport and in partnership with a range of  stakeholders and partners including MLS, Newcastle City Council, Gateshead Council, Sunderland City Council, The Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle University, Northumbria University and Donor Family Network. The NewcastleGateshead Games were supported by NHS Blood and Transplant and a number of businesses both in the North East and nationally, including Games sponsors Westfield Health and HSBC.

Sarah Stewart, chief executive of NewcastleGateshead Initiative, said: “The World Transplant Games were a truly remarkable celebration of organ donation across the North East. It was a privilege and a pleasure to play host to these awe-inspiring athletes and the welcome and support received from residents and businesses was extremely heart-warming. There was such a buzz across the city and to start so many conversations about organ donation is one of a number of truly fantastic outcomes for the Games.”

Graham Wylie, chair of the Local Organizing Committee added: “The Games have provided so many highlights and so many memories. Everyone was so happy and there has been an incredible atmosphere. Newcastle is the spiritual home of transplantation and with fabulous hospitals and the Institute of Transplantation, NewcastleGateshead was the natural place to host the Games in the UK. Well done and thank you to those who have worked so hard to deliver these brilliant Games.”

From Spring 2020 the law around organ and tissue donation in England is changing. Unless you choose to opt out, or are in an excluded group, if you are 18 and above and live in England it will be considered that you agreed to be an organ donor when you die. Whatever your decision, make your choice clear to your family and closest friends to help ensure your choice is honoured. NHS Blood and Transplant’s #PassItOn campaign encourages people to pass on their organs and save lives; make their decision and pass it on those closest to them; spread the word and help us pass on the campaign message to others.

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