Oleg Matytsin, president of the International University Sports Federation (FISU), talks about the organisation’s 10-year roadmap and how it plans to put university teams at the heart of its World University Championships.
For decades, organised sport has enjoyed an unprecedented period of expansion. Revenues for many are at an all-time high. Calendars are full. To see the business of sport doing so well, however, is no cause for complacency.
As John F. Kennedy once told America: “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” Such a philosophy is consistent with that of our best sportsmen and women. So it was no surprise to see an Olympic champion like Thomas Bach adopt such an approach at the IOC following his election, adding his own maxim of “change or be changed.”
During nearly a year as president of FISU, I have been deeply conscious of the need to implement improvements to our own organisation and contribute to a world where leaders are positively influenced by university sport. This is reflected by our decision to develop a 10-year roadmap known as the FISU Strategy.
So what changes will this strategy lead to? Firstly, we want to enhance the role of individual universities at the heart of the student sports movement. The Universiade, our flagship global multi-sport event, will remain the highlight of the calendar. But reforms will be made to the World University Championships format. At present, athletes represent their national university sports federations. But FISU is looking at changing the concept to allow students to compete while wearing the colours of their universities rather than those of their countries.
The chance to compete on the international stage while directly representing a university is an approach that has already demonstrated considerable promise through the European University Games.
The university representation model has already been adopted for our World University League for 3×3 basketball, first introduced in 2015 and now in its second season. The league has been very successful and FISU is now working to add such leagues for other popular team sports.
Another initiative aimed at securing the attention of more students is the International Day of University Sport. On September 20, national university sports federations around the world organised events with their local universities and authorities to celebrate this day – which was proclaimed by UNESCO – for the first time. I am confident the International Day of University Sport will become a high-profile fixture in the sports calendar in the coming years.
It is important for FISU to distinguish itself within the Olympic Movement. Yet the uniqueness of the Olympic Games must be respected. This is what motivated us to lower the upper age limit of our competitions from 28 to 25. Doing so means that, from 2018 onwards, FISU’s events will become more complementary to the Youth Olympic Games and Olympic Games. Our events will be a stepping stone for athletes who wish to pursue their Olympic dreams, while safeguarding their future by gaining a university education.
This decision was taken after an extensive review of statistics for all FISU’s events, as our data showed an average age for participants of 22. Some change, meanwhile, is based simply on sound business sense. This has been the driving force behind our decision to reduce the cost of the application process for any city hoping to host a Universiade – an approach that is of course encouraged in Olympic Agenda 2020.
In the future, working sessions will be held with each city that submits a bid. The first city to fulfil all administrative and financial obligations will be proposed to our Executive Committee. This approach is much more in line with FISU’s belief that collaboration and partnership are better than cut-throat competition.
All of us in the business of sport must be conscious of the scepticism that young people can bring to modern life. Young people must be given good cause to believe in what they see. At FISU we are determined to ensure the integrity and the credibility of our competitions are clear to young people, not least through diligent cooperation with WADA. This cooperation has already borne fruit in the form of an anti-doping e-textbook suitable for adoption in the university teaching curricula.
Olympians and Paralympians freshly returned from Rio 2016, meanwhile, are among those we are hoping to attract to a new FISU Ambassadors programme. In return, FISU is constantly looking to provide a platform for today’s and tomorrow’s high-performance athletes to shine. The increased sophistication and service levels of sports events today mean more sophisticated staff and volunteers are required. A new training camp for volunteers is currently being developed and this will ensure such demand is met with a steady supply.
Our roadmap binds changes like these together around that single focus of ensuring we positively influence the leaders of tomorrow in their experiences of university sport. Leadership skills may be studied in lecture halls, but they are consolidated on sports grounds and through volunteer work.
This is the opportunity that FISU events offer to the world’s global network of students.