The XXIX Winter Universiade 2019 in Krasnoyarsk came to a close on 12 March with a spectacular closing ceremony at the 7,000-capacity Platinum Arena.
The Universiade is the pinnacle event for student athletes to represent their country and compete at a world-class level. Athletes must be students aged between 17 and 25 or graduates who have received an academic degree or a diploma in the year preceding the event, in order to participate.
The 12 days of sport competition offered 76 medal events in 11 sports, with a strong cultural and educational programme organised alongside the action. Notably, there were an equal number of men's (35) and women's (35) gold medals available, with six mixed events.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, identified Krasnoyarsk 2019 as an opportunity to invest in sport and infrastructure following the successes of the XXVII Summer Universiade in Kazan in 2013, the Sochi 2014 winter Olympic Games and the Fifa World Cup 2018. It is intended that the newly constructed and renovated facilities will benefit the local population for years to come.
President Putin is a firm believer in using sport as a driver for change: notably, in transport, tourism, culture and social infrastructures.
Federal and municipal governments have spent a reported $1.2 billion on hosting the event, which FISU president Oleg Matytsin said “has set new standards.” Sportcal Events explores the history of the Winter Universiade as well as the achievements of the 2019 edition in Krasnoyarsk.
HISTORY OF THE WINTER UNIVERSIADE
The Winter Universiade first took place in 1960 and was hosted every two years, before switching to a three-year cycle after the 1972 edition, with events in 1975, 1978 and 1981. Since 1981, the event has switched back to a two-year cycle. Krasnoyarsk 2019 marked the 29th edition and the 25th edition to have been attributed to a European nation up to 2023.
Italy has hosted more Winter Universiades than any other nation, six in total. The European continent has staged 80.6 per cent of all editions, highlighting the prominence of and interest in student winter sport on the continent.
The next edition of the Winter Universiade will be held in Lucerne, Switzerland from 21-31 January 2021 and Lake Placid, USA will host in 2023.
KRASNOYARSK 2019 SPORT PROGRAMME
Krasnoyarsk 2019 crafted a sport programme based upon facilities and the interests of Russian people. The eight compulsory sports were Alpine Skiing, Biathlon, Cross-Country Skiing, Curling, Figure Skating, Ice Hockey, Short Track Speed Skating and Snowboarding. Freestyle Skiing and Ski Orienteering were included as optional sports, while Bandy, also referred to as ‘Russian Ice Hockey’, was introduced as an optional sport in Krasnoyarsk. The latter was a popular addition which the International Bandy Federation took very seriously in its quest for Olympic inclusion.
Krasnoyarsk 2019 welcomed more participating nations than any other Winter Universiade to date with a record 58 nations taking part.
Those in attendance in Krasnoyarsk were promised an authentic '#RealWinter' experience. However, the weather had other ideas, with unusually mild temperatures for the time of year in Siberia. This didn't detract from the standard of competition on offer, however, with several of Olympic and world champions taking to the ice and snow.
A talking point in terms of participation was the absence of the usually active Sports Students Union of Ukraine which cited financial issues for not attending the event. The boycott came despite an offer of financial support from FISU to help ensure that athletes could compete. Many believed the real reason for the absence was political.
The organisers set an ambitious ticket sales target of 380,000 before the launch of the ticketing process one year prior to the opening ceremony. This target was later revised following final confirmation of venue configurations and competition schedule. The previous edition in Almaty, Kazakhstan achieved 236,744 ticket sales out of a total of 324,150 available tickets (73 per cent).
The Krasnoyarsk Territory Sports Minister, Sergei Alekseev, announced that as of 10 March more than 220,000 tickets had been sold for the event. By the end of the Universiade, FISU was able to confirm that the final figure stood at more than 255,000, a record for the Winter Universiade, signalling strong engagement from the local population. This is further highlighted by the fact that 80 per cent of ticket buyers were locals living in Krasnoyarsk and the Krasnoyarsk Krai region.
The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of free-to-air broadcasters in the Asia-Pacific region, and Eurovision Services, the new subsidiary of the European Broadcasting Union, the umbrella body of mainly public-service broadcasters, both signed agreements with FISU in recent months, acquiring rights to distribute the summer and winter Universiades through to 2021.
FISU said that the signal at the Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk would ensure four simultaneous live feeds, allowing an ‘à la carte’ distribution to TV rights-holders.
Just days before the opening ceremony, the Olympic Channel announced that it would present more than 100 hours of live streaming coverage of the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Winter Universiade which it made available worldwide at www.olympicchannel.com and via its mobile apps.
Eurosport, the Discovery-owned sports broadcaster, committed to airing 27 hours of live or as-live coverage.
Live stream coverage was also made available via multiple online channels, including Facebook, Twitter, VK, YouTube (FISU.TV), Eurosport Player and via the FISU and Krasnoyarsk 2019 websites.
FISU’s digital strategy aimed to make the event as accessible as possible to the widest audience possible.
The legacy of Krasnoyarsk 2019 is expected to take many forms. Following the success of the Winter Universiade, an event legacy is already evident following confirmation of the city's intention to bid to host wrestling's UWW World Championships in 2022, among other national and international sports events and training camps.
The competition facilities, in particular, received high praise from international federation officials and athletes alike. The facilities are seen to offer an alternative to those in Sochi, following the winter Olympic Games there in 2014. Russian athletes now have options for locations to train and prepare for major events, such is the quality of the venues in Krasnoyarsk. The city is keen to use the newly-renovated venues to host future international competitions and drive tourism.
People believe that in Siberia bears roam the streets whilst we sit around drinking vodka and play the balalaika
Before the event, not many people could tell you where Krasnoyarsk was in the world. Now, following significant media coverage, the city is more recognised as the cultural centre of Siberia and as a capable host of high-level sports events. As one organising committee member put it, "people believe that in Siberia bears roam the streets whilst we sit around drinking vodka and play the balalaika." The city has now, arguably, established its place on the world map.
A considerable amount of time and money has been invested in order to clean up the image of Krasnoyarsk. Numerous educational and cultural initiatives were introduced in the years leading up to the Universiade, both promoting the city as a destination to visit, but also to engage the population to become more active in order to lead a healthy lifestyle.
The highly skilled major events workforce in Russia will now be looking for the next event to make into a success. Many believe this could be the European Games in 2023, pending political sensitivities surrounding the potential award of the event to Russia. Officials in Kazan have confirmed their intention to submit a bid to host the event.
Meanwhile, Yekaterinburg is also now set to lodge a bid for the 2023 Summer Universiade, while it is understood that a Russian bid for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympic Games is also being considered, as the Russian Federation aims to continue to invest in sport.
The 29th Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk is being evaluated by Sportcal as part of the GSI Event Studies Programme. Detailed findings will be delivered prior to the FISU General Assembly in November 2019.