The Universiade is the biggest gathering of university athletes on the planet. Sometimes referred to as the World Student Games, its summer version is among the biggest multi-sport events outside the Olympics and has brought together over 7,600 competitors for its ongoing 29th edition this week in Taipei, Taiwan.
The Summer Universiade is just part of an ecosystem of events and activities operated by the International University Sports Federation (Fisu), alongside a winter equivalent and a series of single-sport championships. Hosts are chosen on a collaborative basis, rather than through a bidding process, giving a different cadre of cities around the world the opportunity to get involved in their staging.
Of as much importance to Fisu president Oleg Matytsin, however, is that these events form part of a movement to get sport at the heart of university education, and to drive better understanding of what those two communities can do for one another. He spoke to SportsPro at the SportAccord Convention about the development of the organisation and its event strategy.
How would you define the mission of Fisu and how do you think that it has changed since you became president?
The mission of Fisu is to educate people in sport and to give young people the best conditions to realise their talents. We are thinking about how we can create a community of future leaders because sport is a very good platform for education, life experience and a shared global experience.
Our events, like the Universiade, create a special festival-like atmosphere that sees people come from many different countries and religions, and speaking different languages. They feel like one young family. They are the world’s sportsmen of the future.
I believe that we should teach them to be the people of tomorrow: show them how to be efficient, professional and confident through sport. We consider every event to be a platform not a result, when we go to the future Universiade cities and countries we discuss with the local authorities what the city and countries will get out of the Games.
We are really happy because our partners that have hosted Universiade or championships have left a fantastic legacy. Here we are talking about the human legacy, the young people who are getting positioned as leaders in society, city administration or even at a federal level.
There’s an emerging field in developing best practice in sports industry education through projects like the Fifa Master programme and the Olympic university in Sochi. How closely are you aligning yourself with those kind of organisations?
We try to be as open as we can and to find partners in any area. If we see existing projects or organisations who are trying to integrate sport into education we are trying to build relationships.
But mainly now, we are focused on universities and asking them to be our partners and to make sport part of an education as an all-encompassing concept.
We are trying to find new projects and platforms that will give young people the opportunities to play sport and see it as a really active part of society. We are working with the IOC [International Olympic Committee], Wada [the World Anti-Doping Agency]; since last year we have organised the International Day of University Sport with Unesco.
We are trying to present the whole project as a place for future leaders for the young generation by integrating the use of the Olympic plan and making people responsible for society.
Children in Taipei play in a metro carriage made up to look like a swimming pool in a promotion for the 2017 Summer Universiade
How early do you typically work on an event? The 2019 Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk is a couple of years away - where are you in the planning process for that?
We are already having regular meetings with the Krasnoyarsk organising committee. We have technical delegates from the international sports federations and we have undertaken some test events. Next year, we will organise the Fisu forum there and there will be more than 150 countries present.
As is our requirement all of the venues have been tested and the management must be very professional. We are paying a special attention to the communication aspect and in this case I must say that the relations and understanding for the Fisu team, international team and local team is going very, very smoothly.
You don’t have an IOC-style bidding model and instead collaborate with interested host cities. How does that process work?
You are right. We don’t announce the competition time for bids but of course we do this just as a deadline for the executive board to make a decision for Fisu.
The process starts with visiting the cities and here, at SportAccord, there are many cities that are looking to organise an event: cities from Colombia, the US, Portugal and Hungary. So we are starting to discuss our policy and our conditions. We then go together to the local authorities and present the project then if we receive their full understanding and support.
As a result of the Agenda 2020 we are not required to build huge new stadiums; our requirements are a lot less than the Olympics. We prefer to go to the cities that have pre-existing infrastructures. This helps us become one team and then we are seen as far less of a judge. Everyone should be in profit and this way it is win-win for the city.
We are a lot closer to a decision for the 2023 event. We are also very happy that many Olympic cities are coming to Fisu and participating in our programme. Beijing has come to us, so has PyeongChang. They understand that we have a really close partnership.
Sometimes the city administrations or government consider the Universiade as a test for a global Olympic event. Beijing, for example, hosted the 2008 Olympic Games but before that they organised the Universiade in 2001.
How much comes out of your smaller single-sport championships in terms of hosting expertise?
For the single events there are some very popular sports and it is therefore very easy to find a city that is interested in hosting it. Some sports have local or continental interest so we try to find a golden balance where we go for the next time.
We have no problem with the candidates. We are, at the same time, looking to the future and we will maybe organise some cluster events for combat sports, for example, because it will attract more attention from the media and it is easy to organise for Fisu because it is not necessary to travel a lot.
The profit is not as big as the events such as a Universiade but we look closely at what is behind the project. Most of the time we are trying to organise events on university campuses. We are always asking whether the university community has increased or not. If the answer is yes then it is a very positive signal for us to go there and start to communicate with the director of the university. Only after this do we go into the city administration.
What is the future of university sport? Is there a way to bring the movement closer together and to capitalise on what they do in US, where it is really big business?
We have two big projects. First is the Universiade and second are the championships, which we will do our best to organise with the universities. This means that we can promote the university’s value and unity. For example, in a university team there could be students from many different countries - not just the country of the campus - so it creates a very special sort of unity. It is also interesting for universities to be promoted on an international level through sport.
We will try to find a way of inviting more universities from the US to participate on an international level. I see the future of our organisation continuing with our close partnerships with the university community.