Opportunities and Concerns in Hosting World University Games: the case of Turin 2025

By Samantha Cenere and Loris Servillo from Politecnico di Torino

Big sporting events have been always considered important city branding strategies and opportunities to launch major urban requalification projects. The Universiadi constitutes a peculiar kind of event that merges these objectives with the specific goal to position a city on the global map of university students’ destination.

Big events represent unique occasions for those cities that aim at revitalising their economies and launching important requalification projects. Indeed, these events are considered able to promote the image of a city and attract visitors, trigger regeneration, accelerate the implementation of ongoing projects, and provide the financial support needed to construct new infrastructures. Albeit these events present a great variety in terms of size, typology, and impact, sporting events are usually considered the most fruitful ones for cities aiming to capitalise on both the organisation of the event and its legacies to implement their urban agendas. Olympic Games constitute indeed the prototypical example of mega events.

Despite their relatively small scale if compared to the Olympics, so-called Universiadi are a type of sporting events that cities compete to host. Invented in 1959, the Universiadi are the university students Olympic Games, an event that aims at supporting the encounter between Higher Education and sport.

Turin (one of SMARTDEST cases study) has recently won the bid to host the Winter Universiade 2025, thus replicating the success already obtained in 2007. This news was welcomed with great enthusiasm by a city that during the last 20 years has based a relevant part of its growth strategy on the imaginary of a ‘university city’.

As for other big events, hosting the Universiade will allow to attract high flows of people from abroad (both athletes and visitors) and generate positive impacts both on the local economy and in terms of urban development. According to the plans and the promises made by the institutions that took part in the implementation of the bid – namely, the two main Higher Education institutions of the city, the City, the local agency for university sports (CUS), and the regional agency deputy for the right to university education (EDISU) –, the Winter Universiade will bring to Turin around 3,000 athletes and attract around 10,000 visitors. Indeed, as explained by the President of CUS, local encouragement to the sporting culture and high-level sport facilities in particular represent crucial assets for an urban Higher Education system that aims at becoming increasingly attractive for international students. According to him, the latter have to be considered like tourists by a post-industrial city in search for a new identity.

But the most relevant and lasting effect is represented by the investments made on the construction of student accommodation facilities, in line with the capacity of other big and mega events to act as a means of realising relevant infrastructural change. The event will provide the city with almost 1,800 bed places, thanks to the creation of four athletes villages that, once the event will be closed, will be converted into student residences.

However, as for other big events, the Universiade raises various concerns by those segments of the local population that view as problematic those urban growth strategies that pivot on the attraction of mobile populations rather than on the provision of services to residents. Besides the criticism to the use of public fundings to host the event (40 million euros esteemed, of which 28 from the Government), the main concern regards the locations chosen to become athletes’ villages and then student residences. Indeed, according to some local opposition groups, the opening of these facilities in locations such as the former Maria Adelaide Hospital and a green public area in the neighbourhood Parella would result into the loss of public services for residents.

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