Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

Krasnoyarsk, host of the Winter Universiade that starts on Saturday (March 2), lies at the geographical centre of Siberia. As Russia hosts this event for the first time, it does so fully confident that there will be no need for artificial snow.

The main slogan of the 29th edition of the International University Sports Federation's (FISU) flagship winter event revels in that authenticity - "Real Winter". And just in case anyone was in doubt, the other main slogans for this multi-event championship, second only in scale to the Olympics, are "100 per cent Winter" and "Welcome to Winter".

It is fitting that the cauldron constructed to house the Universiade flame - next to the Platinum Arena sports complex that will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies - has been designed to operate under extreme local weather conditions such as heavy snowfall, rain and wind with gusts of up to 20 metres per second.

According to organisers, the structure is designed to resemble a giant block of ice "to emphasise the austere and primeval beauty of Siberia's nature", with the cup of the 10 metres-high cauldron made of metal and reinforced with a roll of stainless steel.

This is a sporting gathering built for purpose and, fittingly for a multi-events championship, there is more than one purpose.

The imminent FISU Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, looks likely to be an uplifting experience for Russia's sporting reputation ©Getty Images
The imminent FISU Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, looks likely to be an uplifting experience for Russia's sporting reputation ©Getty Images  

Since the last Russian international multi-event sports gathering - the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014 - the country's sporting reputation has been severely damaged by the evidence of orchestrated doping that was uncovered at those Games and which formed the basis of the McLaren Report put together at the behest of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The reverberations and repercussions of those findings have been huge for Russian sportsmen and women.

Russia was banned by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) from taking part in the Rio 2016 Paralympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not follow suit, insisting - controversially - that individual sports federations had to make such a judgement call for Rio. But after the IOC's own Schmid Commission report found evidence of "unprecedented systematic manipulation" of the anti-doping system by Russia, notably at Sochi 2014, the country was banned as a team from last year's Pyeongchang Winter Games.

The road has wound on, and we now have a situation where both the IOC and IPC bans on Russia have been lifted, with WADA returning the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) to compliance with its code - pending analysis of data and samples belatedly provided earlier this year by the Moscow Laboratory.

Even before RUSADA's re-admittance, however, FISU had signed an agreement with the International Testing Agency (ITA) for the delivery of an "effective" doping control programme during the imminent Winter Universiade.

The agreement came following a recommendation from the IOC, with whom FISU signed a Memorandum of Understanding in late 2016 with the intention of sharing best practice in sports competition management.

The ITA was formed in 2018, claiming to act independently of any sports organisation or national interest. Its establishment was billed as a key step in the global fight for clean sport. Several International Federations, including the International Swimming Federation, have since handed their anti-doping functions to the organisation.

In Krasnoyarsk, the anti-doping programme includes tests to be conducted before and during the Winter Universiade. RUSADA, meanwhile, will be involved in an education and prevention programme.

"As the home of global university sport, FISU has always invested great effort into anti-doping measures," Eric Saintrond, FISU's secretary general and chief executive, said.

Doping controls at Krasnoyarsk 2019 will be undertaken, at the suggestion of the IOC, by the recently instituted independent International Testing Agency ©Getty Images
Doping controls at Krasnoyarsk 2019 will be undertaken, at the suggestion of the IOC, by the recently instituted independent International Testing Agency ©Getty Images

"Having processes in place to ensure clean sport is an integral part of all our Winter and Summer Universiades, as it is in all our events.

"FISU is committed to ensuring the highest possible standards in this constant endeavour and we firmly believe the ITA will ensure the best possible delivery of our anti-doping programme."

Following the ITA's testing at Krasnoyarsk, the samples will be shipped under strict protocol to the WADA-accredited doping control laboratory in Seibersdorf in Austria.

"Every effort is being made to ensure that clean sport prevails at this Universiade, like any other," a FISU spokesperson told insidethegames. "FISU is grateful for the ITA's support in making this a reality."

The most important element of any sporting competition - integrity - is thus established for the latest biennial winter gathering in the FISU calendar.

Krasnoyarsk 2019 offers, among other things, an opportunity for Russia to demonstrate its ability to put on an event of which it can be wholly proud - now and in the future.

The importance of this Winter Universiade to the hosting nation has been made very clear. At the official preview launch held in Moscow on February 12, FISU President Oleg Matytsin was flanked by the Russian Deputy Prime Minister and chair of the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Organising Committee, Olga Golodets.

"I expect we will see Olympians from the Pyeongchang Winter Games giving great athletic performances, alongside rising stars showing that they too deserve a place at the very highest levels of sport," Matytsin said.

"But even more importantly, I believe the 2,000 or so participants we are expecting will enjoy experiences that will shape them for a lifetime, going home with great memories of each other, of Krasnoyarsk and of Russia."

Matytsin also revealed that Russia was seeking to host another Summer Universiade following its successful staging of the 2013 version in Kazan. 

"I am very pleased that we have received a formal notice of Yekaterinburg's intention to bid to host the 2023 Summer Universiade," he said. "The FISU Executive Committee will meet in Krasnoyarsk and we will be happy to consider this wonderful option."

There is manifestly huge support at the highest levels in Russia for university sports. When the Russian Student Sports Union held its first gala in 2013 to mark its 20th anniversary, it was held at the Kremlin State Palace.

This year's gala was sent a message of greeting from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who last summer conferred on Matytsin the Order of Honour of the Russian Federation.

Earlier this month, Putin received a detailed briefing on the home nation's medal ambitions in Krasnoyarsk from the Russian Sports Minister, Pavel Kolobkov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured centre last February chairing a meeting on preparations for Krasnoyarsk 2019, has kept a keen eye on all developments since ©Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured centre last February chairing a meeting on preparations for Krasnoyarsk 2019, has kept a keen eye on all developments since ©Getty Images

"We will be vying for any medal in all competitions," Kolobkov told the President. "I believe that spectators will like the performance of our national athletes."

He added that the Russian team was set to win gold in ice hockey, cross-country skiing and snowboarding, as well as freestyle skiing and bandy, two of the sports, along with ski orienteering, that are being added this time round to the original programme of eight core snow and ice sports.

No pressure there, then…

"We are completely ready to host the Universiade, which will see 11 sports with a total of 76 sets of medals at the stake," Kolobkov concluded.

According to figures produced by organisers yesterday, the total of official confirmed entries for Krasnoyarsk 2019 is 2,711 - comprising 1,849 athletes and 862 coaches and support staff. A total of 642 medals will be awarded from 69 events.

The event will lack any competitors from Ukraine - a state of affairs that was confirmed earlier this month.

Last March Ukraine's Government banned its athletes from competing at any events in Russia in protest against their neighbour's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and amidst ongoing tensions in the region.

Russia's involvement in the ongoing doping scandal was also invoked as another reason for refusing to participate.

The Government in Kiev later altered its position to a recommendation that athletes do not compete in Russia, warning them that, if they decide to do so, their trip will not be funded. In December, Matytsin told insidethegames that FISU was offering to pay the costs of Ukraine athletes to take part in Krasnoyarsk, but the offer was not taken up.

On February 18, Ukraine also refused to take part in the final International Luge Federation World Cup event of the season, being held this weekend in Sochi.

However, a FISU spokesman told insidethegames that Ukraine had confirmed its entry for this year's Summer Universiade in Naples. And he added that the Ukrainian city of Dnipro was set to host the 2020 World University Waterski Championships.

The IOC President, Thomas Bach, has recorded a welcoming video for all participants that will be played at Saturday's Opening Ceremony, where numerous heads of International Federations will be in attendance, including Rene Fasel, President of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Ukraine's athletes will not be taking up their invitation to compete on Russian soil at Krasnoyarsk 2019, adopting the same stance as their luge athletes, who stayed away from the ongoing World Cup event in Sochi ©Getty Images
Ukraine's athletes will not be taking up their invitation to compete on Russian soil at Krasnoyarsk 2019, adopting the same stance as their luge athletes, who stayed away from the ongoing World Cup event in Sochi ©Getty Images  

Matytsin has estimated that television broadcasting will cover 120 countries, adding that there has also been an agreement with the Olympic Channel.

The FISU President added that Krasnoyarsk 2019 would leave a strong legacy.

"Within these six years of work we saw significant improvements of the region and we have been always keeping in mind the scale of this global task," he told Russia's official state news agency TASS.

"We have been speaking about the development of Siberia and I can certainly say now that the results are very positive.

"The issue of the heritage is the key one for our organisation as new sports facilities were built.

"A social structure is in place, a bridge connecting two shores of Krasnoyarsk is erected, a new housing programme was launched and the reconstruction of the road network is in progress, while the programme of the human heritage remains the most important.

"Tens of thousands of people, who were involved in this project, gained new knowledge and established communications both at the regional and global levels."

Meanwhile, the flame that will burn in the mighty cauldron at the Platinum Arena has been making its way across country via the Torch Relay, which recently involved its oldest participant, 83-year-old Anatoly Dorovskikh, as it came through the town of Shushenskoye.

Organisers said the Shushenkoye leg of the Relay had taken place in sunshine, with temperatures at a very reasonable minus four degrees Celsius - "we warmed up after the harsh frost in the north".

That's real winter…

A FISU delegation inspecting facilities at Krasnoyarsk with 40 days to go until the Opening Ceremony proved highly satisfactory.

An inspection of the Sopka cluster was undertaken, with the snowboard and freestyle skiing venue having held one of the final test events.

"I haven't ever seen such a high standard sports cluster," said Lukasz Ligocki, FISU technical delegate. "Sopka is perfect for the Winter Universiade 2019 and further training. This is a brand new venue, built to the highest standards of today."

On February 15, Krasnoyarsk organisers announced that more than half their tickets - which went on sale with a year to go until the Opening Ceremony - had been sold.

So far, more than 143,000 tickets have been bought by spectators from Canada, the United States, Germany, South Korea, China, The Netherlands and Norway, as well as Russia.

Among the Pyeongchang 2018 champions taking part to whom Matytsin referred will be France's Perrine Laffont, who won Olympic gold in moguls.

France's Perrine Laffont, pictured with her gold medal after the women's freestyle skiing moguls at the Pyeongchang 2018 Games, is among a number of Olympic medallists due to take part in the latest FISU Winter Universiade in Siberia ©Getty Images
France's Perrine Laffont, pictured with her gold medal after the women's freestyle skiing moguls at the Pyeongchang 2018 Games, is among a number of Olympic medallists due to take part in the latest FISU Winter Universiade in Siberia ©Getty Images  

Freestyle skiing made its debut at the Winter Universiade at Harbin in 2009, and it will become a compulsory sport when the next version is held at Lucerne in 2021.

There will be a particular focus of interest on the debut sport of bandy. While it may be new to the Winter Universiade, it is very familiar as a sport to Russians in general, and Krasnoyarsk locals in particular.

Russia's announcement of gold medal ambitions in this sport appears even more reasonable given that bandy's alternative name is "Russian hockey".

Reckoned to be the ancestor of ice hockey, bandy - involving 11 players a side on skates and a small orange cork ball - was traditionally played on frozen fields in The Netherlands during the 16th century.

The game was revived in England during the 19th century, with a first official match being held at Crystal Palace in London in 1875, and by the turn of the century it had been effectively transported to numerous other northern European countries including Russia.

Bandy was a demonstration sport at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, and three years later the Federation of International Bandy (FIB) was established with four founding nations - Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Soviet Union.

The FIB, which now has 27 affiliated federations, set up a World Championship which has run since 1957.

Sergei Lomanov, a Krasnoyarsk 2019 ambassador, has won ten world titles in bandy and is as enthusiastic as you might expect that his home town will host his sport within a major multi-event international competition.

"Being an ambassador of the Winter Universiade 2019 that takes place in my hometown is a great honour for me," he said.

"Bandy is one of the most spectacular winter sports, and the Universiade is an exciting large-scale event. These two are meant for each other."

There will be particular home interest in the bandy tournament ©Getty Images
There will be particular home interest in the bandy tournament ©Getty Images 

The Yenisei Ice Stadium, with a 5,000-seat capacity, is almost sold out for bandy competition. Six teams, including Russia, Sweden, Finland and Norway, will participate in the men's tournament while the women's event will include Sweden's world champions from last year.

Russia's men beat Sweden 2-1 in the final of the recent World Under-19 Championships, and although no members of that team will be taking part in Krasnoyarsk, Vladimir Kitkov, Russia's head coach, believes the home side will still be dominant.

He also says the venue is unlike any other. 

"It is a bandy paradise," he said. "I have seen many indoor stadiums in Sweden, but this stadium in Krasnoyarsk stands out. The Yenisei Ice Stadium is one of the world's best arenas for Russian hockey."

Triumphs both large and small, it seems, are in prospect for the Krasnoyarsk 2019 hosts…