Universiade Will Enhance Gwangju’s International Profile
Hosting the world's second-largest sporting event would complete Gwangju's arrival as an international city and bring a significant upgrade to its urban environment, according to the city's mayor.
The South Korean city represents one of the three bidders competing for the rights to host the 2013 Universiade, or the World University Games, that trails only the Olympic Games in size, and Gwangju Mayor Park Gwang-tae is obviously quick to declare his city as the most convincing candidate.
It bears further watching whether Russia's Kazan or Spain's Vigo can prove as otherwise.
``I don't think we trail our competitors in any area," said Park, a day before the arrival of the International University Sports Federation (FISU) evaluation commission headed by Vice President Stefan Bergh of Sweden.
``We think we are ahead of our competitors in transportation system, infrastructure, game facilities and public support. It wouldn't be hard for FISU inspectors to identify our strengths, and convincing them is half the battle toward winning the vote on May 31.''
Park invited FISU President George Killian and Secretary-General Eric Saintrond to Gwangju in March to discuss the city's preparations for the multinational student games. He says the FISU executives left impressed with the city's sporting facilities and overall accessibility.
Basking in International Glow
Gwangju is the latest South Korean city to get involved in what the international media has often criticized as the country's shopping spree of sporting events. Skeptics question the logic of hosting such a mega-sized sporting event when there is always a threat of the revenue failing to justify the massive cost.
Park counters that the benefits of hosting the games outweigh the drawbacks by a considerable margin.
Gwangju could clearly use the international exposure that comes with hosting the Universiade, and winning the bid would also mean the creation of thousands of short-term jobs and an upgrade of the city's urban infrastructure, including sport venues, transport systems, housing and other facilities.
The games could also benefit the host city and the region if they create a surge in tourism.
Should Gwangju win the rights to host the 2013 event, the government is considering spending around 4 trillion won ($4 billion) to finance the event, which would forever change the everyday lives of Gwangju citizens, Park said.
``Look what the Asian Games did for Busan," said Park, adding that the government contributed 5 trillion won to support the southernmost port city in 2002.
``Gwangju has a lot of experience in hosting international events, which immensely helped us enhance our global profile," he said. ``Aside of providing a venue for the 2002 World Cup, we never hosted an international sporting event, but doing so would certainly help improve the city's hardware.''
According to the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy (KIEP), Gwangju hosting the 2013 games would produce 450 billion won in added value and create about 30,000 jobs.
Favorable Public Opinion
Bergh's evaluation team, which toured Vigo last month, conducts an on-site inspection of the Gwangju bid through Sunday and will stay in Kazan May 15-18. It will release the final report of the three cities ahead of the FISU vote on May 31 in Brussels, Belgium, to select the winning bid.
The inspectors will rate each city in a number of technical areas ― including infrastructure, game facilities, government support and public opinion ― and Gwangju is intent on putting up its best show.
``The inspectors are already coming off their tour of Vigo, so we are focused on emphasizing the distinctive strengths of our bid, expressing what differentiates us from our competitors," said Park.
``I think Gwangju residents would be eager to display their high level of enthusiasm for the Universiade, as thousands are to come out to the streets and places like the May 18 Memorial Cemetery, City Hall and the airport to show their support and assure a warm reception for the FISU delegation.
``We already have volunteers lining up to take part in various events during the five-day tour, and Friday's citizens' festival at the May 18 Democratic Square is certainly shaping up to be a special moment.''
Park doesn't expect the inspectors to find many faults in the city's infrastructure and facilities. Municipal authorities will show inspectors around the city's top sports venues and also organize a helicopter tour of the city.
``There are few questions about the competitiveness of our bid," he said.
``The city has much experience in international events, and it would be hard to find flaws in our state-of-the-art games facilities, like the World Cup Stadium and other world-class venues at 16 local universities.
``Accessibility is not a problem when we are just an hour's flight from Seoul and the city is webbed with an effective public transport network.''
Should Gwangju be announced as the winning bid in Brussels, it would become the second Korean city to host the Universiade, following Daegu, which hosted the 2003 summer games.
There are concerns that the possibility of Korea hosting the same sporting event within a decade could end up hurting Gwangju's chances, but Park believes that the successful experience of Daegu is rather a positive factor.
``The Daegu event impressed participants with its state-of-the-art facilities and smooth operations of the games, proving the reliability of Korean cities in managing these types of sporting events," said Park.
Continental rotation hasn't been a factor in Universiade bids in recent years, Park said, pointing out that China hosted the 2001 games in Beijing and won the rights to host the 2011 event in Shenzen.