Sports leaders hail outstanding quality of event preparations as athletes express excitement in competing on the world stage with their university teammates for the first time
JINJIANG, CHINA — The newest event property on the global university sports calendar kicked off with the opening press conference in this ancient maritime Silk Road city.
A prelude to the 62 men’s and women’s matches to come from the 21 November – 1 December, the KELME 2019 FISU University World Cup – Football media event drew 160 accredited journalists and one surprise guest: football legend Juan Sebastián Verón.
The Argentinian footballer’s presence — and words — connected with the audience. “It’s important that you have a dream and follow it,” said Verón, who made his event entrance by walking hand-in-hand with two local ball kids.
Before unveiling the tournament trophy, the three-time FIFA World Cup competitor recounted his sporting progression in a career that culminated with 73 international caps.
“Glory is a nice word, but it’s a hard word,” said Verón. “To find glory in football you need good legs, a strong mindset, and a big heart. Since I was young, I have worked on having these. ”
The Copa América finalist said that while he never quite led Argentina to the FIFA World Cup title, what he has taken from his football playing days reverberates far beyond the field of play.
Strengthening sports on campus
FISU President Oleg Matytsin touched on similar themes during the event’s opening address — that lessons learned in sport are instrumental in finding success later in life.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Matytsin said, citing a Chinese proverb. “Wearing the colours of their universities and competing here in Jinjiang helps players continue this journey.”
As captain of the Autonomous University of Mexico State, Wilson Graniolati called it “an inspiration” and “a blessing” to be a student-athlete competing in the inaugural University World Cup.
“We made it here by qualifying through the continental tournament,” Graniolati said. “After qualifying in Brazil, we were so happy to make it here we have been extra motivated to study and train harder. We have this special spirit within our team. Since qualifying, this spirit is something we all now feel all over our university campus.
“Being a student-athlete is a big opportunity,” Graniolati added. “To play sport at an elite level while also working towards a degree is a blessing.”
Today’s Stars, Tomorrow’s Leaders
Citing football’s universal global appeal, FISU Secretary General – CEO Eric Saintrond said the sport is an ideal way to mold future leaders through sportsmanship, competition, and academic excellence.
“This event helps talented players continue with their educational goals. A promising football career can be cut short; a player can get injured and then if one doesn’t have an educational background it can get quite challenging and complicated,” Saintrond said. “We are creating a great event, not just for FISU but for the whole football community.”
China’s Event Hosting Ambition
Asian University Sports Federation president and Chinese university sports federation secretary-general Xue Yanqiang left little doubt about the event country’s future hosting ambitions.
“It was in the Great Hall of Beijing last year the announcement came that Jinjiang would host four consecutive editions of the University World Cup in football,” Yanqiang recalled. “In recent years, the Chinese government has given strong and continuous support to get more of our nation’s youth playing football.
“Holding a World Cup is our ambition. Hosting university sports is part of our plan to get there. In 2001, Beijing hosted the Summer Universiade; in 2008 this city held its first Summer Olympics. In 2009, Harbin hosted the Winter Universiade; in 2022 China will hold the country’s inaugural Winter Olympics. By hosting successful University World Cups in football, we will send a strong signal to the world that will help us realise our ambitions of bringing the FIFA World Cup to China.”
Competition and camaraderie
Joining the invited speaker group on stage were Jinjiang mayor Zhang Wenxian, Jinjiang vice-mayor Wang Haifei, and competing Chinese footballer Fan Yu from Beijing Normal University.
“I am looking forward to this new opportunity with the University World Cup and compete against such high-level players,” said Yu, who has competed for the Chinese university national team at this year’s Summer Universiade. “I want to communicate with foreign players and get to know them better.”
Watch Live, Stay Up To Date
Keep up to date with all the latest news from the KELME 2019 FISU University World Cup – Football with our daily match updates and stories from beyond the playing pitch. Visit the official event website, and catch all the action — live on with video on demand — on FISU.TV.
Even before the opening game whistle, the event has demonstrated strong media interest. The ball kids contest drew an audience of 3.5 million, with the Luis Figo-led team draw live stream gaining nearly one million additional viewers.