By Kim Tong-hyung
It's hard for a city to live up to expectations when its name is as glorious as ``city of light.''
However, the southwestern city of Gwangju isn't shying away from bold predictions in its bid to host the 2013 Universiade, a multinational sports festival for student athletes organized by the International University Sports Federation (FISU), seeking a chance to glow in global exposure.
Gwangju's competition for the world student games is Russia's Kazan and Spain's Vigo. Municipal authorities and local residents are now looking to impress a six-man evaluation team by FISU, led by Vice President Stefan Bergh, which begins its five-day schedule in Gwangju Thursday for an onsite inspection of the city.
The inspection team toured Vigo last month and will stay in Kazan May 15-18. Gwangju Mayor Park Gwang-tae is confident that his city can present a convincing case.
``Hosting the Universiade will provide Gwangju a platform to step up and leave a strong impression as an international city, and also inject energy into the local economy," said Park, who discussed the city's preparations for the event with FISU President George Killian when he visited Gwangju in March and presented him with an honorary citizenship.
``Our advanced public transportation system and state-of-the-art sports facilities are certainly strengths, but what really stands out for us is the level of local support,'' said Park, adding that about 95 percent of Gwangju citizens were found to be supportive of the city's bid according to polls. ``The people are really enthusiastic about bringing the Summer Universiade here and the commitment of the central government is strong as well.''
The 2013 Universiade is expected to draw about 10,000 student athletes from 170 countries competing in 13 sports competitions.
The years of passion, effort and anxiety will all come down to a single moment on May 31 for Gwangju officials when the FISU makes its verdict on the host city for the 2013 event at its general meeting in Brussels, Belgium.
If Gwangju wins the bid, it becomes the second South Korean city to host the Universiade, following Daegu, which hosted the summer games in 2003.
Hosting the event gave Daegu an international reputation and also about 174 billion won ($175 million) in earnings from business and tourism.
Gwangju is hoping for even a bigger payday, with the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP) offering a rosy estimate that hosting the 2013 games would produce 450 billion won in added value and create about 30,000 jobs.
Five Days to Impress
The onsite inspection, along with the media presentation in Brussels, is thought to be a major factor in determining the outcome of the vote held amongst FISU's 27 executive members.
Gwangju officials are looking to stage a lavish welcoming for the FISU delegation Thursday, with thousands of citizens and students waiting at the airport with banners and cartoon faces of the six inspectors ― Bergh, Greece's Stavros Douvis, Serbia's Sinisa Jasnic, Turkey's Kemal Tamer, South Africa's Malumbete Michael Ralethe and Japan's Hisato Igarashi.
The inspectors will start their evaluation tour Friday by visiting the May 18 Memorial Cemetery, where 325 people are buried, many of them believed to have been killed during the bloody suppression of a pro-democracy demonstration in 1980.
The delegates will then receive a presentation on Gwangju's infrastructure and facilities and attend a massive festival held at the May 18 Democratic Square at the central part of the city in the evening.
The inspectors will begin Saturday with a meeting with the presidents of universities based in Gwangju. Then they will visit the city's main sports facilities, including the Gwangju World Cup Stadium and other venues in Chosun University and Honam University, which are penciled as the competition venues for the Universiade.
On Sunday, the inspectors will join a helicopter tour of the city and hold a news conference in the afternoon to comment on their evaluation tour as they wrap up their schedule in Gwangju.
Municipal authorities are confident about the competitiveness of their bid. Gwangju has experience as a host for large-scale sporting events, serving as a venue during the 2002 World Cup and also managing the 2007 Korean National Sports Festival, an annual October event that invites about 20,000 local athletes in about 40 competitions.
The city also has an international reputation as a destination for culture, with the Gwangju Biennale now developing into one of the biggest and most acclaimed art events in East Asia.
And as the home of 16 universities that list more than 134,000 students, Gwangju certainly has the youth culture to keep an event like the Universiade thriving and buzzing.
Working with a solid foundation, Gwangju officials are looking to convince the FISU inspectors of the strong public support for the games.
About 200,000 Gwangju residents have volunteered to take part in various events and festivals during the evaluation tour, including thousands who will come out on the streets Thursday to assure a warm reception for the arriving FISU delegation, city officials said.
Municipal authorities will also present the inspectors with a petition signed by 1 million Gwangju citizens expressing their support of the city's bid.
Although Gwangju officials believe they deserve to win the bid, Kazan and Vigo assure serious competition for the Koreans up to May 31.
Many observers see the bidding process as a two-way race between Gwangju and Kazan, with the Russian industrial town now in its third try.
Kazan, the capital of the Tatarstan Republic, lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka rivers and is Russia's eighth largest city with a population of just over 1.2 million.
The city lost out to Serbia's Belgrade over the rights to host the 2009 Universiade and then was edged by China's Shenzen over the 2011 event. The Russians are now hoping to avoid a strikeout.
Kazan's reputation as a major industrial, commercial and cultural center is an obvious strength as well as its vibrancy as a sports city.
FC Rubin Kazan, a football club in the Russian Premier League, has won the hearts of locals, and the city also has professional clubs in other sports including ice hockey, basketball, volleyball and rugby.
The Spanish port town of Vigo would provide a stunning backdrop for a multinational sporting event. The city of 290,000 is a favorite holiday destination for Europeans, renowned for its distinctive natural scenery as well as its food, culture and nightlife. It is also an industrial hub known for its concentration of fishing companies and shipyards.
Vigo is home to Celta de Vigo, one of the proudest football franchises in the Spanish Primera Division, making it among the country's more enthusiastic sports towns.