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Universiade future bright despite Belgrade blushes

THE economic downturn has already embarrassed the university sports movement but the future of the biggest multi-sport Games outside the Olympics is bright, according to the International University Sports Federation.

While the ongoing Winter Games in northern China are proceeding smoothly, FISU secretary general Eric Saintrond admitted the Summer Universiade -- scheduled to take place in Belgrade this July -- had hit problems.

"We have a couple of problems with Belgrade due to the fact that Serbia is not a big country," he told Reuters in an interview. "And of course it is facing an economical crisis, dramatically now, because it is also not a rich country.

"We try to help in certain ways but we cannot finance the Games, FISU is not a rich organisation," he added. "We can just give them advice, how to adapt to reduce the costs, but we cannot adapt too much because we have to keep the standard.

"But still they are facing problems, because still there are 10,000 participants coming and it's a big event."

Serbian organisers had originally elected to offer eight "optional" sports in addition to the 13 they were obliged to stage at the biennial Games, so one solution when the crisis hit was to cut six of those sports.

"We are very embarrassed in front of the international federations," the Belgian added. "We had no choice because it was too close to the opening ceremony so our only other option was to cancel the Games."

The Harbin Winter Games had no such problems and Saintrond hailed the "first class" venues and facilities Heilongjiang Province had built at a cost of some US$370 million for the Feb. 18-28 Games.

FISU will be back in China for the 2011 Summer Games in the southern city of Shenzhen, which Saintrond estimated would be spending close to US$1 billion on new venues and facilities.

"That will be an amazing Games, they are preparing the Games perfectly, amazing facilities," he said.

The financial climate has led FISU to look at what cities need to do to host a Games to help keep down costs, particularly for Winter Games.

"We have decided the ski jumping and nordic combined will not be compulsory any more," he said.

"Because a city might not have a jumping hill and if you don't have the tradition, it's a bit like the bobsleigh, you build a bobsleigh run then you have to maintain it.

"So we are not withdrawing it but we will only have it if we have the facility."

Although FISU has to find host cities every other year, rather than every four years for the Olympics, Saintrond believes the lower cost of putting on a Universiade means they will not be running out of candidates soon. "(The economic downturn) will impact everyone, except that our Games are not too expensive if you compare with the Olympics," he said.

"If you look at the budget for the security for the Vancouver Olympics, they say one billion dollars. This is the operational cost for maybe 10 University Games."


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