Swiss organizers and International University Sports Federation (FISU) officials are fine tuning details and making final preparations with just over 50 days until the opening of the postponed Lucerne 2021 Winter Universiade.
The 30th Winter Universiade – spread across central Switzerland and the breathtaking Swiss Alps – marks the first time that the multi-sport event for student-athletes returns to the country that last hosted the event in 1962, in nearby Villars. The Lucerne 2021 slogan is appropriately “Welcome Home”.
The Lucerne Winter University Games were initially planned for January of 2021, but the decision to postpone the event was taken in November 2020 due to Covid-19 and Switzerland’s strict health regulations. The 11-day event now takes place December 11-21 with the opening ceremony being held in Lucerne’s central Europaplatz.
FISU secretary general and chief executive officer Eric Saintrond says the revised journey hasn’t been without difficulties, but all eight venues have been retained with the addition of St. Moritz for Alpine skiing, and everything appears to be on course for successful Games.
“The process was extremely complicated because you have to make a deal with the international federations, make sure it fits in the calendar, and then we had to make new deals with the sports venue owners because the ice rink can be available in January and not anymore in December,” Saintrond tells Around the Rings during an interview from FISU Headquarters in Lausanne.
“It was an extremely difficult time for us, our team and the organizing committee to fix new rules and new contracts with the owners of the venues and owners of hotels because there will be no village, there will be hotels for the athletes.
“It was not easy to finalize this and we’re not even talking about the snow because conditions in January and February are not the same as early December, but we are confident that the snow will come and we will have good conditions for our snow sports.”
Helping to ensure those favorable snow conditions was the the decision to add St. Moritz to the sport program and to share Alpine ski events with Stoos. Stoos, which overlooks Lake Lucerne, has a base elevation of just 1,300 meters compared to the two-time Olympic host St. Moritz and its town situated at 1,856 meters and its race course finish altitude above 2,000 meters.
Parallel events will be held on the Franz Heinzer piste in Stoos, while the men’s and women’s super-G, giant slalom and slaloms will be contested at the 1928 and 1948 Olympic resort, with student-athletes descending the renowned racecourses for three days immediately after the annual FIS women’s World Cup.
“Everything will be ready for the Universiade – we just need to change the branding during the night and then we will continue on the slope that will be used for the World Cup,” says FISU Games winter director Milan Augustin.
“The problem is we will only have three days for competition because the main venue is still Stoos. On one side it’s political and then all the workers from Stoos will shift between the St. Moritz races. The races in Stoos are on the final three days of the Universiade,” Augustin says, about the tightly packed schedule.
Spectators and mandatory vaccinations
It will be mandatory that all student-athletes, coaches, officials and staff show proof of two Covid-19 vaccinations to be permitted into venues and at other Universiade locations.
“We had no choice because we could not be like Tokyo with people not being vaccinated and then organize 100,000 tests with athletes and others,” Saintrond said. “We had the head of delegation meeting and no one complained.”
Spectators will be permitted to attend events at the nine venues, but according to the FISU officials it is a fluid situation that could change quickly.
“You have to have a Covid pass that is valid in Switzerland to be a spectator and it is valid for restaurants, bars and all internal venues,” Saintrond says. “However, people cannot be put next to each other in every seat.”
“We are not yet in December and in Switzerland, more or less they can change the rules every 15 days,” Augustin informs. “It depends on the confederation and the office of health. It has been really complicated – vaccinations have not been the best success in Switzerland. We have reached a good level, but it is still not enough.”
However, Saintrond and Augustin say it is also conceivable that 7,000 fans could attend the gold medal hockey game at the modern Bossard Arena in Zug, just northeast of Lucerne.
Full speed ahead on ice and snow
Some 1,600 athletes, 900 team officials, 500 media members, 3,800 volunteers and an estimated 50,000 guests are expected to descend upon Switzerland for the Winter Universiade.
Despite the myriad challenges, obstacles and unknowns, the FISU officials insist that considering Switzerland’s steeped tradition and passion for winter sports coupled with a modern approach to organizing the Games, they are expecting a great results.
“We have tried to adapt the format a bit to make sure these Games will be sustainable, not to spend too much money and to provide good Games to athletes which is our top priority,” Saintrond said.
“The Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne are a great example – what they did was completely new and I believe that it was so successful that we hope to have the same success in Lucerne.”
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Homepage photo: Sami Haidar