By Bjorn Haake in Gent
The city of Gent is the official capital of Oost Vlaanderen, but it is striving to become more – the (unofficial) sports capital of the entire Vlaanderen region, if not Belgium. Sports enthusiast Christopher Peeters is a driving force behind the efforts. Peeters heads the department of finances, facilities and sports in the city of Gent.
Peeters talked to Cyclingnews during the Gent Six Days, so it was fitting he emphasised the efforts by the city made towards cycling. "We had the Tour de France stage here last year."
It proved successful and Peeters wants more. "At this very moment I am trying to get the Giro to Gent in 2010." The Italian stage race will start out in the Netherlands in two years. "They start in Amsterdam and they are supposed to do four days in Holland, so perhaps the last [of the four] days could start in Holland and arrive here in Gent."
The Belgian city is putting every effort in to make it happen. "In December some members of my team are going to Venice where the presentation will be held for the 2009 Giro. Our delegation will talk to the organisers and we'll see what we get. But we have good hopes that we can get the Giro in 2010 here to Gent."
It is not just cycling that is big on Gent's agenda. "Belgium together with the Netherlands is a candidate for the football World Cup in 2018. If we get the World Cup then Gent will be one of the cities," Peeters said.
Gent is not only putting efforts but also money into the project. "We are now constructing a whole new stadium for our local club [KAA Gent aka the Buffaloes - ed.] It will seat 20,000 people, but is expandable to 30,000 – in case we gain the World Cup in 2018." Peeters added that a higher capacity stadium does not make sense for this size city, with a population about 240,000. "We couldn't fill it up all the time."
Gent has already reaped in one prize. "Gent is the official sports capital of Vlaanderen in 2011." It is the first time such a title is awarded and it was promptly won by Gent. Peeters emphasised the city's goal to build the infrastructure, but also to have the atmosphere.
Het Kuipke, where the Six Days are held, stood as a reminder of what new sports facilities have to live up to. "As you can see here at the Six Days – it is sold out. I think we are succeeding in making Gent a sports city."
Ironically, Peeters has very little time to do sports himself. "We have over 500 sports clubs, so going to games of every one of them is a full time job." When he goes on vacation, he does a bit of diving and skiing. And his job gives him some exercise, too. "I live nearby city hall, so I walk to work and I walk a lot in the city. But when I am in a hurry I will use a bike."