David Gold: As Russia prepares for a glamourous decade of sport, Kazan 2013 dreams of reaching Olympic proportions
Monday, 20 August 2012
With 170 nations sending a total of 13,500 athletes to compete in 60 venues, 36 of which are being built for the Universiade, Kazan and their executive director of the Games, Vladimir Leonov, have quite a task on their hands.
Thoughts of holding the Universiade in Kazan started eight years ago, with the first bid for the event in taking place in 2006. Marat Bariev, the then Minister for Youth, Sport and Tourism, now the current secretary general of the Russian Olympic Committee, put forward the idea. At the time Leonov was working at the committee of external relations and tourism for Kazan, and the bid sparked his interest.
"As a person, who has been playing sports professionally for many years, and a true patriot of my city, I couldn't stay away from the event that will start a new chapter in the life of Kazan," he told insidethegames. Kazan lost that bid to Shenzhen in China, but Leonov became involved in the subsequent bid to host the Universiade in 2013.
He explained that the 2013 bid won, thanks in no small part, to the significant political support they received for the project. "Back then the bid campaign and an opportunity to stage such large-scale competitions in our city with a thousand-year history has become an idée fixe for us.
"First President of Tatarstan Mintimer Shaimiev gave great help to us. Rustam Minnikhanov, at that time Prime Minister of Tatarstan and current President of our Republic, headed the bid committee. Kazan's bid was also supported by government guarantees of the Russian Federation and up to one hundred thousand signatures by citizens of Russia and European countries that were collected during the Kazan-Brussels super-marathon.
"I'm happy that I'm lucky enough to be part of a big Team 2013 since we are creating a new chapter in the history of university sports and our country."
Kazan 2013 will herald the start of a memorable period in Russia, as the country gears up to stage most of the biggest major sports events the world has to offer. The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympics, and the 2018 World Cup are the main competitions Russia will stage, but Kazan will also host the World Aquatics Championships in 2015 and Moscow the World Athletics Championships in 2013.
Throw in the World Ice Hockey Championships in 2016 and a Formula One grand prix in Sochi, and it promises to be a memorable decade for Russia. Kazan is in many ways a dress rehearsal for the more glamorous events to come, says Leonov.
"Leaders of our country noted more than once that the World University Summer Games in Kazan should be viewed as a dress rehearsal for the Olympic Games in Sochi," he explains. "The sports management experience that employees in our organisation boast will be, indeed, of great value in the lead up and during the Olympics."
A cooperation agreement has been signed between the Republic of Tatarstan and the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee, to share expertise in economics, IT and personnel among other areas. A practical example of their collaboration can be seen in the six individuals from Kazan who formed part of the 100 strong delegation of volunteers that Sochi sent to London for this summer's Olympic and Paralympics. They are bringing back valuable experience from London, not just for Sochi, but for Kazan too.
"The experience they accumulated during such a global sporting event will prove of great value to us," Leonov says.
There are similarities between Sochi and Kazan. Both are undergoing huge infrastructure changes and both are seeing a huge momentum in the volunteer movement in Russia. Leonov says that they have learned from London's experience in this area, particularly given the significant role volunteers played during the 2012 Olympics. "Earlier we have been focusing all our efforts on attracting young people – schoolchildren and students – to voluntary work. Now we understand that it can be also of interest to people from older generation. We want them to get a first-hand feel of being part of the project, the project in the atmosphere of which the entire country is living now."
Like Sochi, Kazan is set to stage matches during the 2018 World Cup at the new 45,000-seater football stadium that will host the Opening and Closing Cceremonies of the Universiade. With the World Aquatics Championships in 2015, Kazan has plenty to look forward to beyond 2013. And with an echo of Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko, Leonov describes Kazan as "one big construction site".
That emphasizes the huge scale of the challenge facing Leonov. It is the biggest event the country will have hosted since the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980.
"There has been previously no experience of managing such a large-scale sporting event as the Universiade in modern Russia. And of course it made our work even more complicated but at the same time it energised us and gave a great impetus," Leonov tells me.
"The task is getting even more challenging as the whole world was impressed with the Summer Universiade that Shenzhen hosted in 2011. The host city took the World University Games to a completely new level. Our task is to make the image of the Universiade even more recognisable worldwide, to upgrade its status, moving it a few steps closer to the Olympic level."
Quite a formidable task ahead, but there are few signs yet that the pressure is telling on Leonov or Kazan.
David Gold is a reporter for insidethegames. Follow him on Twitter here.