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14 April 2020 | in FISU World University Championships, FISU Athletes

FISU athletes take the lead in Organising Committees

Several events on the FISU World University Championship calendar had to be cancelled due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, but Organising Committee personnel remain optimistic about hosting the event in the future. FISU takes pride in the fact that many former university athletes, who competed in FISU events, are now taking the lead in organising FISU World University Championships.


JoostJoost van Wijngaarden (left) is one such former FISU athlete, who has had to deal with the disappointment of cancellation of the 2020 WUC Cycling that was to be held in Nijmegen, Netherlands.


“Initially we had a really hard time coping with the cancellation,” says van Wijngaarden. “But given the current situation in the world, we couldn’t agree more with the cancellation.”


“Cancelling your event is painful,” he says emotionally. “You work so hard for it for years and with just a few months to go, it slips out of your hands. However, I am very confident we can bring back our Championship on the calendar the future. In that way, we don’t lose our baby forever, but just have to wait a bit longer for it. I hope we can show the world what we are capable of in Nijmegen."


“I think of a comparison with an athlete’s preparation. We trained so hard for this, for years, now we want to reach the finish line.”


The comparison with an athlete’s perspective comes naturally for Joost van Wijngaarden, as he has been a competitive cyclist himself and was in fact a participant at the last two editions of the World University Cycling Championships in 2016 and 2018.


“Experiencing the WUCs as an athlete made me a better organizer, I believe,” he continues. “What I learned is that all decisions and actions need to be in favour of the athletes. For example, don’t make athletes stand for too long at an opening or closing ceremony, make sure they have seating etc. As an organiser who has been an athlete, I know what the athletes need.”


“As an organiser I also have to care about raising funds and pleasing sponsors and VIPs. Being an organiser is so much more challenging than being an athlete!”


Ronald Speed Skating 2Also in the Netherlands are former FISU athletes Ronald Ligtenberg and Bart Vreugdenhil, who were both part of the Organising Committee of the 2020 WUC Speed Skating in Amsterdam – an event that was held but had to be cut short on the last day due to the coronavirus outbreak. 


“Initially, it was a painful decision to cancel the last day after having worked so hard on it,” says OC President Ligtenberg (right). “But looking back, I do not think about the cancelled day because I am so grateful that the event could take place for 3 days! To be honest, I have almost forgotten that we cancelled one day and I only think about the event with a smile on my face.”


Ligtenberg’s colleague in the OC, Bart Vreugdenhil agrees. “Given what the situation was, there was absolutely no other option than to cancel, and that eased the disappointment a lot. If anything we feel extremely lucky we were able to host at least the first three days!”


Both Ligtenberg and Vreugdenhil have been FISU athletes themselves, having participated in the 2016 and 2018 WUC Speed Skating as well as the Almaty 2017 Winter Universiade – where they won a bronze medal together in Team Pursuit.


Almaty BartBart Vreugdenhil competing at Almaty 2017 Winter Universiade“As an athlete, you just focus on performance. Sometimes while skating some laps, I had no idea what was behind me!” says Ligtenberg. “As an athlete you need to narrow your focus while as an organiser, you need to have a broader view, to see everything.”


“Competing in the World University Championship and the Universiade were always my goals as a skater,” says Vreugdenhil. “But it never became such an integral part of my identity and purpose, as being an organiser has.”


“Ronald and I have always felt that FISU events have something very different to offer athletes than any other world championship,” he adds. “The emphasis on results is a little less perhaps and all competitors have something in common, by being university students. This creates a much more social and interactive event, and exploiting that potential was our mission as organisers – hence our slogan ‘Skate, Study, Socialize’!”


“Moreover, we had a championship fully organised by students,” says Ligtenberg. “In my experience as an athlete and organiser, at FISU events athletes are more open to meeting other people and trying to understand other cultures. I think that is the most unique aspect.”


Dutch Speed SkatingVreugdenhil gives the example of skater William Tai from Chinese Taipei. “Tai, a Pyeongchang 2018 Olympian, arrived two and a half weeks in advance of the event,” he says.


“In that time, he developed quite a taste for the typical Dutch deep-fried fast food joint called FEBO, earning him the nickname ‘Mister FEBO’ in local newspapers. Besides that, he regularly attended the social events of the Student Skating Association SKITS in the run-up to the event. He not only delivered great results, but truly made the most of his time in Amsterdam. He was the perfect embodiment of everything we aimed for as an organising committee.”


Hopefully, more former FISU athletes will get the chance to host FISU events in the near future. There are many more – like 2020 WUC Ski Orienteering Event Secretary Sonja Mörsky, a World University Champion herself and table-tennis player Apithai Bumrungpanictarworn of Thailand, who is part of the Organising Committee of this year’s World University Badminton Championship. More from these Organising Committees in the weeks to come.