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World University Games celebrate 100 years!

3 May 2023

Since 1949, FISU has been preserving and enriching a great tradition dating back to its roots in 1923.

Between 3 to 6 May 1923 Paris became an epicenter of international university sport: the French capital hosted the World University Games, and a congress organised under the auspices of the International Confederation of Students.

A brand new sports complex « Parc des Sports de Paris Université Club » (above picture) was inaugurated during this special occasion, long a dream of the young and ambitious French sports leader Jean Petitjean. He strongly believed that gathering students of the world around sports competitions would create a friendly atmosphere propitious for peace.

Compared to today, the program and the number of participants were quite modest. However, the University Games, with only two sports and twelve countries represented, was a success. 15,000 spectators cheered the athletes, among whom was the famous American sprinter, and Antwerp Olympic Games gold medalist, Charley Paddock.

Interestingly, Petitjean planned to include women’s competitions in the program, but his request did not receive the necessary support.

From 1923 to 1939, the university sports movement experienced remarkable growth. The World University Games were hosted in various European cities and ski resorts, with students showing not only a high level of performance but also the spirit of friendship and camaraderie.

In 1938, Petitjean made decisive steps towards the creation of a new organisation, which he wanted to call Fédération internationale du sport universitaire. Because of the outbreak of the war, the project had to wait ten years to come into being.

After the revival of the World University Games in 1947, what emerged was the need for an autonomous and apolitical organisation which would take care of student sports on a world scale. Several European university sports leaders immediately took the opportunity to start the negotiations and established FISU – International University Sports Federation – in the spring of 1949.

From its inception, FISU has continued to build on Petitjean’s foundation. High level global competition, educational opportunities, and a keen focus on dual career for student-athletes are areas of focus today – all stronger due to FISU’s work and the legacy that began in Paris 100 years ago.

Find out more about university sport during the interwar years HERE

Written by Lidia Lesnykh