Chengdu Universiade kicks off with spirit of inclusiveness
First intl multi-sport games China hosts in post-COVID era
Published: Jul 29, 2023 12:59 AM
Picture shows a splendid fireworks display in the countdown segment themed on the sun and immortal birds from Chinese mythology before the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU Summer World University Games in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, on July 28, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

Picture shows a splendid fireworks display in the countdown segment themed on the sun and immortal birds from Chinese mythology before the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU Summer World University Games in Chengdu, Southwest China's Sichuan Province, on July 28, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

The 31st FISU World University Games, the first major international sports event held in China  in the post-epidemic era, officially kicked off in Southwestern city Chengdu, with the cauldron ignited in the stadium on Friday evening. Analysts said the significance of this event, which symbolizes solidarity and friendship, goes beyond sports itself and will further promote exchanges and understanding between young people from different countries.

Chengdu, a fascinating tourist destination known for its historic sites, adorable pandas, hospitable locals and delicious Sichuan cuisine, now adds the grand sports event to its name card. Observers believe that the Chengdu Universiade will help bring together people in the wider international community who love peace, stability and prosperity. This is a completely different approach than that taken by some Western politicians who are divorced from the common aspirations of the world and engage in division and confrontation.

After a splendid fireworks display in the countdown segment themed on sun and immortal birds from Chinese mythology, at 8 pm on Friday night, the ceremony started with an opening singing performance led by a girl from the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan. She became known to the public in February 2018 when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited her family, a poverty-stricken household in Sanhe village.

University sports delegations from countries and regions entered the stadium along the march pass paved with Sichuan brocade patterns. Spearheaded by flagbearers Hu Zhenzhuo and Guo Hanyu, the Chinese mainland delegation, consisting of over 700 people, marched on last as the host nation delegation to the warmest standing ovation.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region sent its largest-ever delegation to the Chengdu Universiade, which received a jubilant and sustained cheer from the audience as they marched into the stadium. 

Athletes from Macao Special Administrative Region and Chinese Taipei athletes also received wild and warm cheers.

Delegations from 113 countries and regions are participating in the Chengdu FISU Games, which runs from July 28 to August 8, with over 6,500 athletes competing in 18 sports. The Chinese delegation, which consists of more than 700 people, includes 411 athletes from more than 100 universities.

In order to minimize the impact of the pandemic and guarantee the participation of students, FISU raised the maximum age of participants from 25 to 27.

President of the Organizing Committee of the Chengdu Universiade Huai Jinpeng and FISU Acting President Leonz Eder delivered their speeches on the rostrum surrounded by delegation flags.

"Thank you, Chengdu!" Leonz Eder said in Chinese.

Chinese President Xi Jinping then declared the Chengdu Games open at the Dong'an Lake Sports Park Stadium to the largest cheer of the night.

Ye Guangfu, a taikonaut from China's Shenzhou-13 manned spaceflight, appeared at the opening ceremony as the main torchbearer and ignited the cauldron along with 30 other torchbearers.

Photo: Chen Tao/GT

Photo: Chen Tao/GT

Power of youth

At a banquet to welcome guests attending the World University Games opening ceremony on Friday, President Xi said that the World University Games has always been a celebration of youth, solidarity and friendship, according to the Xinhua News Agency. 

Xi called on young people from around the globe to join hands to promote world peace and development, expressing hope that young people worldwide take the opportunity of the Chengdu Universiade to enhance mutual understanding and inject new impetus into human progress. 

FISU Universiade, which was first held during the Cold War in 1959, not only wants young people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, but also seeks to promote young people communicating across cultural, political and religious barriers through sports, Ren Hai, a professor at the Olympic Research Center of Beijing Sports University, told the Global Times.

Through sports, young people can learn that they should not only cherish their own culture, but also respect other cultures, as the world should be diverse and inclusive, Ren said, "This coincides with the Chinese idea of 'seeking common ground while reserving differences'."

Observers believe that at a time when some politicians in the US and the West are confronting China with Cold War mentality, the Universiade, as a form of civilian exchange, will help rally a wider range of peace-loving people to resist irrational politicians who create divisions.

The gap between Western elites and the general public is deep. Their confrontational mentality against China runs counter to the aspirations of the general public for peace and stability, Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times. 

China offers a positive option of exchanges and common development between countries, which is quite different from the approach of division and confrontation that some US and Western politicians obsessively pursue, experts said.

Photo: Chen Tao/GT

Photo: Chen Tao/GT

Sincerity and hospitality

Chengdu, as a cultural city with over 2,300 years of history, has long been a hub of exchanges connecting China to the rest of the world, like "a pearl on the southwestern Silk Road," President Xi said at the welcome banquet on Friday.  

On Friday, Xi encouraged people to tour the city of Chengdu and experience and share firsthand the multifaceted manifestations of the Chinese modernization. 

Chengdu is the third city on the Chinese mainland to host the biennial FISU Summer Games, following Beijing in 2001 and Shenzhen in 2011. It is also the first time a city in China's western region has hosted a comprehensive international sports event.

It's worth noting that out of the 49 venues of the Chengdu FISU Games, only 13 were newly constructed, and the other 36 venues are repurposed and upgraded buildings. Throughout the process, green and energy-saving measures were promoted, along with prioritizing the use of environmentally friendly building materials.

Chengdu enjoyed sunny weather on Friday, with special Panda-themed vehicles deployed on the streets.

German swimmer Henning Bennet Mühlleitner told the Global Times on Friday that what he found most impressive about the Chengdu Games was "how everything in China is focused on the physical games, although the Games have been holding back for two years due to the pandemic."

"I feel in good hands, organization-wise, not only by the German team but also by the officials… The volunteers have been very supportive and thoughtful," Mühlleitner said. 

"There's no other country in the world with China's capacity and willingness to make such great efforts for a FISU Summer Games, which doesn't seem as profitable compared with other major sporting events," Wang Dazhao, a Beijing-based sports commentator, told the Global Times.

Nevertheless, according to Wang, what China hopes to gain from hosting the Games is a platform for youth to promote cultural exchanges and world unity. 

Before the opening, accredited media journalists received a bilingual written script in Chinese and English from students at the local Shishi High School, introducing the cultural diversity of Chengdu that ranges from the Jinsha Site Musem to the Dujiangyan Irrigation System.

Local people have received blind-box gifts from the organizers, which include venue maps, Chinese-English catchphrase leaflets and even sports equipment ranging from skipping ropes to frisbees, Global Times learned. 

The move has invigorated the local people's enthusiasm for the international sports event, as tickets for several events such as athletics, swimming and badminton have sold out.

Hosting the FISU Games also drew a huge influx of visitors this week. A source from the civil aviation authority told the Global Times that flight numbers in the previous month in Chengdu alone reached over 200,000, with the average number of daily flights at Chengdu's Shuangliu and Tianfu international airports surpassing 1,700.