Gwangju Leads in Infrastructure, Facilities
By Kim Tong-hyung
GWANGJU - Gwangju, the first bidder to officially enter the race to host the 2013 Universiade, believes it's also a step ahead of competitors in terms of readiness.
Gwangju is competing with Russia's Kazan and Spain's Vigo and the winning bid will be announced May 31 in Brussels, Belgium, after a vote among the International University Sports Federation (FISU)'s 27 executive members.
The FISU evaluation commission, which arrived in Gwangju Thursday for a visit through Sunday, will release its final reports on the three bidders ahead of the meetings in Brussels, which are expected to be a major factor in the outcome of the vote along with the media presentations.
The FISU will evaluate each city in a number of technical areas, including general infrastructure, game facilities, transportation, government support and public opinion.
The Koreans are hoping to hit top marks in all categories.
Gwangju's biggest strength is its experience in hosting large-scale sporting events. The city served as a venue during the 2002 World Cup and eventually provided the stage for South Korea's much-remembered win over Spain to advance to the semifinals.
Gwangju also managed the 2007 Korean National Sports Festival, an annual October event that invites about 20,000 local athletes in about 40 competitions, revealing the city's breadth of quality game facilities.
The Gwangju World Cup Stadium, which has more than 44,000 seats and is penciled as the main stadium of the Universiade, is one of the country's top football venues, while the Yeomju Sports Center and Bitgoeul Multi-purpose Center are also considered as world-class indoor venues.
Combining the sports facilities at local schools, with Chosun University and Honam University planned as Universiade venues, the city has 23 stadiums and arenas that could be used right away for various competitions, including track and field, football, volleyball, table tennis and fencing among others. .
Gwangju officials are planning to renovate the city's existing sports venues and training facilities and construct eight new facilities for swimming, basketball, tennis, judo, golf and other sports should it win the bid for the 2013 event.
Accommodations have been pointed out as a weak spot in Gwangju's bid and municipal authorities are looking to quiet the worries with bold development plans.
The city is looking to build a massive athletes village, providing 2,400 units to accommodate more than 12,000 people, located just five minutes away from the World Cup Stadium.
The athletes' village will also include hotels for FISU executives and media members and offer state-of-the-art amenities, high-tech communication services and a wide range of leisure and shopping options.
City officials are confident of providing enough beds for tourists, with the number of rooms at Gwangju's hotels, motels and university dormitories, which could house some visitors during the games, adding up to 50,000.
A 200-unit hotel is expected to open next year in the Sangmu district, an affluent downtown area, and another 600-unit hotel is expected to open in the Gwangsan district in 2012.
Another strong point of Gwangju is its accessibility and effective public transportation network.
The city doesn't have its own international airport, but the Muan International Airport would be just 40 minutes away from the planned athletes village, thanks to a new highway connecting Gwangju and Muan that is expected to open on May 30.
Gwangju is about a 3 1/2-hour drive away from the Incheon International Airport through either the Honam expressway or the Seohaean (west coast) expressway. The KTX high-speed train service connects Seoul and Gwangju in 2 1/2 hours.
During the Universiade, shuttle bus services will be provided to link airports and other points of entry with competition venues.
The shuttle buss services will also be provided for athletes, FISU officials and media members between the main stadium, competition venues, the press center and the athletes' village.
All Universiade participants will also be able to access city buses free of charge when presenting their ID cards.
Government Support, Public Opinion Are Strengths
Aside from its infrastructure and facilities, Gwangju's cause is greatly helped by solid government support and financial backing. Should Gwangju win the rights to host the 2013 Universiade, the government is considering spending around 4 trillion won ($4 billion) to help finance the construction of infrastructure and games facilities, municipal authorities said.
In his visit to Gwangju in March, President Lee Myung-bak promised a full backing of the city's bid, saying the government ``wouldn't spare" its support of local efforts.
Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, who accompanied Lee in the visit, expressed an emotional attachment to Gwangju's bid.
Han was the bid chairman for PyeongChang in its attempts to bring home the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and shed tears in front of news cameras after the Gangwon Province resort town finished second to Russia's Sochi in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) vote in Guatemala last year.
``Gwangju winning the bid would ease the pain from PyeongChang's heartbreaking failure," said Han.
Strong public support is identified as another strength of the Gwangju bid. According to municipal authorities, about 95 percent of Gwangju citizens are expressing support of the bid, according to data analyzed from numerous polls.
The residents are experienced in hosting international events of significance. The Gwangju Biennale has now developed into one of the biggest and most acclaimed art events in East Asia, and the city also hosted a meeting of Nobel Peace laureates in 2006 and the World Women's Peace Forum in 2007.
The city also has an international reputation as a destination for culture, including the growth of the Gwangju Biennale.
Aside from serving as a venue for the 2002 World Cup, the city has never hosted an international sporting event, and residents hope that hosting the Unversiade will result in an upgrade of the urban environment and transport systems.
And with the city home to 16 universities that have more than 134,000 students, Gwangju certainly has the vibrant youth culture to keep an event like the Universiade thriving and buzzing.