WATCH: China stages first international multi-sport gala after the pandemic

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to the audience during the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU World University Games in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province, July 28, 2023. Pic: Xinhua/Ju Peng

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to the audience during the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU World University Games in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province, July 28, 2023. Pic: Xinhua/Ju Peng

Published Aug 4, 2023


By sportswriters He Leijing and Yuan Qiuyue

Chengdu, one of the most vibrant cities in China, is basking in the flame of youth, as the 31st FISU World University Games officially opened Friday evening in the Dong'an Lake Sports Park.

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At 9:15 p.m. Beijing time, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Games open, in front of a crowd of around 40,000 and a host of state leaders and international dignitaries, including President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani of Mauritania, President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi, President Irfaan Ali of Guyana and Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili of Georgia.

The Universiade is the first international multi-sport event staged by China after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the capital of southwest Sichuan Province has also become the third city from the Chinese mainland to host the biennial summer universiade, following Beijing in 2001 and Shenzhen in 2011.


China's path to embrace the global sporting gala wasn't without challenges. The Chengdu Universiade has been postponed twice, with the pandemic posing substantial challenges to its preparatory work.

Nevertheless, the organizers managed to get everything ready for the Games, and the host city has completed the construction, renovation, and expansion of 49 venues and facilities, which boast top-tier infrastructure and service.

Photo taken on July 4, 2023 shows the Dong'an Lake Sports Park in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province. Pic: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing

From broadcasting to security and medical services, a wide range of cutting-edge technologies like 5G, cloud computing and artificial intelligence have been employed to create a smart Universiade.

The aquatics center features an intelligent water treatment system, which automatically monitors water quality and controls temperature, and the scoring system can reach an accuracy of one ten-thousandth of a second.

China's progress in promoting green growth is on display, as the venues are kept cool amid the summer heat while maintaining low carbon emissions, thanks to hourglass-shaped alleys designed inside buildings that can increase air flow. Alongside the cooling measures, the self-driving experience of new energy vehicles is also a notable highlight.

Around 20,000 young volunteers are working around the venues, park greenways, transportation hubs, and commercial areas to offer comprehensive services, extending their warm hospitality to their peers from around the world.

Huai Jinpeng, president of the Organizing Committee of the Chengdu Universiade, delivers his speech during the opening ceremony. Pic: Xinhua/Yang Qing

"The FISU World University Games is a global sporting event for youth and friendship, and we have made elaborate preparations, aiming to deliver a streamlined, safe and splendid Games," said Huai Jinpeng, president of the organizing committee of the Games, in his address at the opening ceremony.

In order to minimize the impact of the pandemic and guarantee participation of students, FISU raised the maximum age of participants from 25 to 27, and relaxed a previous rule that only current students and those who have graduated within one year are eligible, allowing for the participation of all students who graduated in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

"Here we are, finally, ready to enjoy this wonderful FISU World University Games in Chengdu. Together, we have created a Games worth waiting for," said FISU acting president Leonz Eder.

"We may have a global society now, but the moments when you can live together with so many young people from so many different countries (and regions), even for a short time, are deeply special," Eder added.

Leonz Eder, acting president of the International University Sports Federation, delivers his speech during the opening ceremony. Pic: Xinhua/Wu Gang


According to Chen Weiya, director of the opening ceremony, 99 percent of the performers and volunteers are college students. "The Chengdu Universiade itself is a gala for the youth to chase their dreams," he said.

A total of 6,500 student-athletes from 113 countries and regions are competing in 269 events across 18 sports during the Universiade, which runs from July 28 to August 8.

China dispatched a delegation of over 700 members for the Games, including 411 athletes from over 100 universities to compete in all the sports.

"I sincerely wish all our young friends could challenge your limits, strive for your excellence, strengthen the intercultural ties and friendship, and display the charisma of youth here," Huai said to the young athletes at the ceremony.

"Dear athletes ... Remember that there is much more to FISU World University Games than your sporting results. Enjoy this precious time alongside each other, learn from one other, make new memories and make new friends," Eder said.

The Universiade offers China's female tennis player Tan Qianhui a chance to live in the Athletes Village for the first time. Anticipating the friendship that comes from young athletes competing in diverse sports, she said she is looking forward to exchanging of ideas and experiences with her peers.

Aerial photo taken on April 19, 2023 shows the stadium for the opening ceremony and cauldron in the light show for 100-day countdown to the 31st FISU World University Games at Dong'an Lake Sports Park in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province. Pic: Xinhua/Shen Bohan

Markku Rantahalvari, events and training specialist from the Finnish Student Sports Federation, said that Finland is looking forward to the Games and has high hopes for success. Over 100 Finnish student-athletes and team managers have arrived in Chengdu.

"Number one, it's a competition ... We hope that we have a chance for around 20 medals. We will see how we are going to obtain them. But another goal is also cooperation and making friends between the Polish and Chinese students from different universities," said Alojzy Nowak, president of Polish University Sports Association.


"Young people are just like the morning sun, and coincidentally, the locals in Chengdu have shown their love and worship for the sun since ancient times," said director Chen, noting that the opening ceremony featured a number of traditional Chinese cultural elements.

Fireworks at the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU World University Games in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province, July 28, 2023. Pic: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing

Images of the Sun and Immortal Birds Gold Ornament, one of China's esteemed ancient treasures, were embodied both into the final countdown segment and upon the Universiade torch. Its creative design of the Sun with 12 golden rays and four Immortal Birds circling the Sun, showcases the qualities that are deeply embedded in the Chinese culture for millennia -- harmony, inclusiveness and pursuit of brightness.

The 3,000-year-old gold foil, which was unearthed at the nearby Jinsha archaeological site in 2001, is listed as the logo of China Cultural Heritage, and the auspicious heavenly birds depict people's aspirations to ascend to the sun and symbolize light, strength and hope.

To adorn the chests of young athletes are the medals fastened to ribbons with the craftsmanship of the Shu brocade, an ancient art of over 2,000 years old in China.

Chengdu is known as the hometown of giant pandas, China's national treasure, and the loveable panda named Rongbao takes on the role of the mascot for the Universiade.

Photo taken on July 19, 2023 shows Rongbao, mascot of the 31st FISU World University Games, at a store in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province. Xinhua/Wang Xi

The doll version of Rongbao has become a sought-after item for people from home and abroad, among an array of over 1,000 licensed products including toys, badges and stamps.

Chengdu is also laying on a series of sporting and cultural activities, such as seeing giant pandas and performances of Sichuan Opera, designed to highlight the host city's distinctive features.

China's star swimmer Zhang Yufei, who will compete in the Games, said she hopes to explore the city's scenery and cuisine. "I love spicy food, so I'm eager to try the Sichuan cuisine, and the pandas are a must-see for sure."

"I would also like to exchange ideas on sports with local youths, as the Games serves as a valuable platform for communication," Zhang added.