From Beijing to Shenzhen to Chengdu, Universiade shows a changing China

This file photo taken on Sept 29, 2022 shows artists performing during the opening ceremony of the 2022 ITTF World Team Table Tennis Championships Finals in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province. [Xinhua]

In 2001, when Zhao Jing applied to be a volunteer for the World University Games in Beijing, she did not realize that her life would revolve around the Universiade ever since.

After college graduation, Zhao became a public servant at China's Ministry of Education, and in 2005, she was an official of the Chinese delegation at the Summer Universiade in the Turkish city of Izmir.

Three years later, she joined the International University Sports Federation (FISU), becoming deeply involved in the Shenzhen Summer Universiade in 2011 and the ongoing Chengdu Universiade.

Recalling her career trajectory, Zhao said that the FISU Summer Universiade presents an opportunity to demonstrate the changes that have taken place in China - on and off the sporting field - over the past two decades.


The Chengdu Universiade was originally scheduled for the summer of 2021, but was ultimately pushed back until 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, Chengdu managed to get everything in place for the event before it officially opened on July 28.

This photo taken on July 28, 2023 shows flag bearer Guo Hanyu and Hu Zhenzhuo of China's delegation marching during the opening ceremony of the 31st FISU Summer World University Games in Chengdu, southwest China's Sichuan Province. [Xinhua]

"I know very well about the capability of my motherland," said Zhao, who oversaw Chengdu's bid for the Universiade and preparations for the event. "I have more confidence in no country's organizing committees other than China's."

Zhao's confidence stemmed from the 2001 Summer Universiade. Held a month after the Chinese capital was awarded the hosting right of the 2008 Olympic Games, the Beijing 2001 Universiade was widely considered a full rehearsal for the Olympics.

Building on the lessons learned from the Universiade, Beijing successfully delivered the 2008 Olympic Games, highlighting China's organizing ability for international sports events.

In 2011, Shenzhen, an economic hub just 30 years old at the time, successfully hosted the Summer Universiade, further showcasing China's hosting capabilities.

Chengdu, with a history of over 2,300 years, is the third city in the Chinese mainland to host the biennial Summer Universiade. FISU acting president Leonz Eder has visited China more than 20 times since his first trip in 1985. "China always hosts our events with great passion and great success, and that's why we are more than happy to return to any Chinese city to host our games," Eder commented.

Emiliano Ojea, founding president of the Argentinian University Sport Federation, who participated in Shenzhen 2011, echoed, saying that "China is one of the countries with the highest level of hosting events in the world, possessing high-quality sports venues and infrastructure, as well as enthusiastic and professional event volunteers."

The Chengdu Universiade marks the first time a city in western China hosts a major international sporting event, a testament to the country's development as a whole.


China topped the medal table at the 2001 Summer Universiade, boosted by the stellar performances of star athletes like Liu Xiang and Yao Ming. However, both Liu and Yao were products of the traditional Chinese sports system rather than university sports.

In 2005, Hu Kai, a Tsinghua University student, won a rare sprint gold for China in the men's 100 meters race at the World University Games, ushering in a new era of university sports in China.

This file photo taken on Aug. 12, 2011 shows the opening ceremony of the 26th Summer Universiade in Shenzhen, south China's Guangdong Province. [Xinhua]

In Chengdu, China is represented by 411 student athletes, and over 80 percent of the athletes are competing in an international multi-sport event for the first time.

"Whereas professional athletes groomed by sports schools used to form the bulk of China's delegation, the presence of non-professional athletes from ordinary universities has grown steadily in recent years," said Zhong Bingshu, a renowned Chinese scholar who specializes in school sports.

Chinese universities have increasingly contributed to the success of elite sports. China's delegation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics included 252 student-athletes from 72 universities.

For today's student-athletes, the World University Games represent more than just a competition.

Tennis player Guo Hanyu from Southwest University, one of China's two flagbearers at the opening ceremony, plans to explore Chengdu with athletes from other delegations. "I will definitely recommend some delicious Sichuan cuisine to them. And of course, we will also visit the giant pandas!" Guo said passionately.


The 2001 Summer Universiade was a prelude to Beijing's journey to host both Summer and Winter Olympics over a span of 14 years, while the 2011 Universiade played a role in Shenzhen's rise as a destination for international sports events.

This file photo taken on Aug. 16, 2005 shows Hu Kai of China celebrating after winning the men's 100 meters race at the 23rd Summer Universiade in Izmir, Türkiye. [Xinhua]

Similarly, the Chengdu Universiade has driven significant urban changes in the southwestern Chinese city. To prepare for the event, Chengdu built 13 new venues and renovated 36 existing ones. A wave of enthusiasm for sports has engulfed the city, as citizens often engage in different sports in parks, community centers, and under overpasses every morning and evening.

"The Chengdu Universiade has presented a top sports feast to our community residents, exerting a positive impact on their lives as they care more for sports and health. A five-year-old child in the community watched a swimming competition and then pestered his mother to sign him up for a swimming course," said Zhang Biao, a community official in Chengdu's Tianfu New Area.

In 2017, Chengdu put forward a strategy to build itself into a hub for international sports events. The experiences this booming city has gained in hosting the Universiade, as well as last year's World Team Table Tennis Championships, will help it close in on the goal.

In 2025, Chengdu will host the World Games. In Eder's view, the city is capable of organizing high-level international events, including the Olympics, with its quality venues and experience.

"It is a mid- and long-term strategy to build relations with international sports federations, which can further enhance the influence of Chengdu worldwide and boost tourism," he said.