Portimão shapes up to become City of Sport

Portimão has been named a European City of Sport in 2019, putting the town back on the international map after years of financial hardship. The title was awarded by ACES Europe, which considers the town to be “an example to follow in the promotion of sports for all”.

The news has been warmly welcomed by businesses and sporting associations which are rejoicing with the recognition and hoping it will help propel the town to new heights in terms of sports. But “with great power comes great responsibility”, and the town now faces the tricky task of making sure it lives up to its newfound title.

The announcement was made on Friday (January 19) by Portimão council, which attributed ACES’ decision to the town’s municipal programmes to promote sports among its population.

It may just have been the deciding factor that put Portimão ahead of Cascais, which was also in the running for the title.

Another significant factor that is likely to have weighed heavily on the decision was the promotion of local football team Portimonense to Portugal’s First League, which will see the town welcoming huge national teams to the Algarve later this year such as Benfica, FC Porto and Sporting. Just last weekend, Portimão’s municipal stadium hosted a match-up between Portimonense and SC Braga, a club that in 2010 finished second in the league and in 2011 reached the final of the UEFA Europa League.

The club’s new investors have also played a big role in modernising the municipal football stadium. The grass pitch was replaced last year, while a new digital scoreboard was also introduced. There are also plans to build more shading for spectators.

The renovation and reopening of Portimão’s ‘gimnodesportivo’ sports complex, which was closed for many years but has since hosted major events such as the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup, as well as the existence of a “world-class” racetrack in the borough, where motor events like the Superbike FIM World Championship are almost a yearly staple, were other decisive factors that resulted in the distinction.

Mayoress Isilda Gomes was delighted by the news, especially given that many believed it to be “highly unlikely” that the title would go to the sunny Algarve town.

“We turned a bid that many considered improbable into a mobilising initiative that the whole community accepted as its own, by collaborating and taking part in it,” Isilda Gomes said.

She added that the town will now be doing everything to ensure it fulfils the ambitions set out in its bid, and see that sport becomes a “motivating force in the quality of life of the population”.

“The promise has been made: Portimão will have more sports for everyone,” the mayoress added.

When the bid was first announced last year, Gomes guaranteed that the borough had the “capacity and infrastructures” to qualify for the title, stressing that there would be no need to spend more money on “massive works”.

It was a promise that had to be made given the borough’s incredibly delicate financial situation.

But the council has admitted that several “key projects” are planned to take place, including the construction of a running track which the borough sorely lacks and the completion of Boavista’s sports pavilion.

The good news is that the distinction opens up many possibilities for all kinds of funding, especially from the EU.

The title will be formally attributed to Portimão at the ACES Europe gala event that will take place in November at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Meantime, the accolade has been celebrated by everyone from regional tourism boss Desidério Silva to the management of the international racetrack (Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, or AIA).

“I feel very proud that Portimão has been named a European City of Sport, which recognises the investment the council has made on quality infrastructures and the promotion of sports among residents and tourists,” said Desidério Silva, adding that the regional tourism board (RTA) is willing to help Portimão promote the quality of its sports infrastructures.

Also delighted by the news is Parkalgar, the entity that manages the racetrack.

“The election of Portimão as European City of Sport fills us all with pride. The racetrack, as a sporting facility of excellence, often described by international press as one of the best in the world, has certainly contributed to the distinction,” Parkalgar told us.

But it has admitted though that the distinction will mean more needs to be done, both in terms of sports events and venue improvements, to ensure Portimão is worthy of the praise.

Given the increasing importance of golf in Portugal and considering its latest international award, the Morgado golf course also joined in the celebrations, with its manager Jorge Papa saying: “It is excellent news, and I’m sure it will bring real advantages to the promotion of golf in Portimão and the rest of the country.

“This distinction should be used by the town’s council to improve the existing conditions for sports even further,” he said, adding that he also hopes golf will be one of the sports included in the activities that will “certainly be organised as part of the initiative”.

Swimming association Portinado, which has been promoting water sports in Portimão for around 30 years, was also delighted by the accolade and felt it also contributed to ACES’ decision to nominate Portimão.

“We hope that this distinction can serve as a compromise by the municipality towards local sports, and that the working conditions of local clubs and athletes can also benefit from this project,” the association told us.

Portimão will become Portugal’s seventh European City of Sport.

Guimarães was the first Portuguese town to receive the award in 2013, followed by Maia (2014), Loulé (2015), Setúbal (2016), Gondomar (2017) and Braga (2018).

By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]