Every other year thousands of athletes from all over the world gather in one city to compete in various sport disciplines. These athletes have at least one more thing in common: they are all university students.
The International University Sports Federation (FISU) organizes the World University Games both for winter and summer sports once in two years with a goal to "promote sporting values and encourage sporting practice in harmony with, and complementary to, the university spirit."
Most recently, Shenzen hosted 10,603 participants from 151 countries - yet, this event passed quietly in the mainstream media. Except for the occasional news releases regarding the success of the women's basketball team (USA won the gold medal), the coverage was predominantly done by college papers and websites of the participants' institutions.
Perhaps that's a good sign. After all, we are talking about students here.
Since in most countries there is no "amateurism" requirement in regard to the student-athletes, which stems from the limited or non-existent intercollegiate athletics system, don't be surprised if you see a name that also appeared at the Olympic Games or World Championships or any other professional international event.
What's subtracted from the World University Games, however, is the highly commercialized nature of professional sports. The focus is not on "selling" sports. Rather, the focus is on the celebration of intellect and physical health.
That celebration certainly occurs -- even if the competition is not live on ESPN, the athletes do not appear half-naked in Sports Illustrated, or Yahoo! does not post a thread about it ever day.
Huang Guoqiang, vice secretary general of the Shenzhen Universiade Organizing Committee, said upon the closing of the Games at the end of August that the first emphasis of the Games is friendship. Huang added that the event "enables athletes with different backgrounds to gather together and share not only sports experience and passion in competition, but also the joy and culture of competition."
That experience is shared when student-athletes from different countries and different sports sit crammed in a coffee shop in the athletes' village watching the Wimbledon finals; the experience is shared when student-athletes from one nation start a dance and the passers-by join in as if it were their national dance as well; the experience is shared when language is not a barrier in understanding a sport that might not be popular in your country, yet you learn the rules because you want to be able to cheer for your new friend.
More importantly, the real shared experience happens when the student-athletes go back to their respective countries, or respective universities (which often means the United States) and become better students, better scholars, better workers and better human beings due to the newly acquired perspectives.
The mission of FISU is also to contribute to the "full humanistic development of the individual and, thus, of society at large."
We know this. We know that, somewhere deep down, the purpose of intercollegiate athletics is similar. Among the NCAA's core values, we find concepts such as "sense of community," "sportsmanship," "respect,"and "integrity."
We also know from the NCAA's video that there are "380,000 student-athletes and most of them will go pro in something other than sports."
Yet, when we talk about student-athletes, we so often forget about the "student," the individual.
The World University Games remind us of these values, even if they are not all over the media.
-- by Dunja Antunovic