FISU Evaluators Arrive
Five-Day Inspection Considered Key in Deciding Universiade Race
By Kim Tong-hyung
GWANGJU - The International University Sports Federation (FISU)'s inspectors arrived in Gwangju Thursday to begin their appraisal of the city's bid to host the 2013 Universiade as the contest entered a serious stage.
The evaluation commission, led by FISU Vice President Stefan Bergh of Sweden, will today begin its technical assessment of the southwestern city that continues through Sunday, investigating a number of key issues, including sports venues, infrastructure, government support and public opinion.
Gwangju is the second venue to get inspected by the FISU commission, which carried out its evaluation of the first candidate, the Spanish city of Vigo, from April 17-21. The inspectors will examine Russia's Kazan, the third and final candidate for the 2013 event, on May 15-18.
The inspectors were greeted with a lavish welcome upon their arrival, with thousands of screaming citizens and students forming a human belt from Gwangju Airport to the downtown hotel where the delegation is staying.
The massive, cheerful army of spectators shouted, waved flags and banner photos of each of the six inspectors _ Bergh, Stavros Douvis of Greece, Sinisa Jasnic of Serbia, Kemal Tamer of Turkey, Malumbete Michael Ralethe of South Africa and Hisato Igarashi of Japan.
Municipal officials rallied Gwangju residents to come out and show their support, with the number of spectators estimated at about 50,000. Bergh and his colleagues, who were expecting a loud reception, nonetheless seemed pleasantly surprised at the full-blown Pope treatment.
Another surprise was awaiting the guests at the Shin Yang Park Hotel, with organizers preparing a birthday celebration for Jasnic, who turned 43 on the day, and Ralethe, who turns 41 on May 5, during a dinner reception hosted by Park.
``Thousands of people today have showed their excitement for hosting the 2013 Universiade in Gwangju," said Bergh at the dinner reception.
``Whenever a Korean city hosts an event to this significance, the Koreans have proved themselves as serious hosts, capable of organizing a good sporting event," he said.
Let the Battle Begin
Obviously, it would take a lot more than spirited cheerleading to convince the FISU inspectors of Gwangju's worthiness as a host for the world's second-largest sporting event, trailing only the Olympics in size.
However, Koreans are confident that they represent the most competitive bid among the three candidates.
Gwangju is seen by many observers as the leading contender, based on its solid transportation infrastructure and game facilities, while the city's wealth of experience in hosting significant international events, including the Gwangju Biennale, is also regarded as a major strength.
Gwangju claims surveys show 95 percent of its citizens are in favor of hosting the Universiade, and it has been promised financial commitment with the government and political leaders.
The Koreans are assured a tough challenge from Kazan, noted for its persistence, as this is its third try to host the world university games, while Vigo, the beautiful Spanish tourist destination, looks for an upset.
After completing its visits to the three cities, the evaluation commission will produce its final report identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate ahead of the FISU vote on May 31 in Brussels to determine the winning bid.
The FISU delegation will start its tour of Gwangju today with a visit to the May 18 Memorial Cemetery in Mangwoldong, where the victims of a bloody suppression of a pro-democracy demonstration in 1980 that has haunted the city for years are buried.
The inspectors will then attend a presentation by municipal authorities on issues such as immigration control and customs, security, and the financing and management of the games.
They will wrap up a busy day by attending a citizen's festival held at the May 18 Democratic Square, joining thousands of people participating in various events and programs.
Touring game facilities will be the priority on Saturday, with the inspectors visiting venues at Chosun University and Honam University, both penciled as Universiade venues.
The inspectors will also stop by the Gwangju World Cup Stadium, a world-class facility that staged South Korea's historic win over Spain in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. The football stadium, with more than 44,000 seats, is planned as the main venue for the Universiade, staging both the opening and closing ceremonies.
The inspectors will wrap up their schedule in Gwangju with a news conference Sunday afternoon to comment on their evaluation tour.