Philip Barker

Next week, the final countdown to Naples 2019 begins with the start of the Universiade Torch Relay.

On June 4, the Flame will be kindled in Turin, host city of the first truly global World University Games 60 years ago. It was organised by the International University Sports Federation (FISU). The name "Universiade" was coined in 1959, but there was no Torch Relay.

Instead there was "an unusual relay race with the participation of Italian universities – this relay has as a symbolic end, the aim of obtaining the oath from the honourable rectors of all the Italian Universities".

From the 12th century, "bull" or "bolla" was the name given to a missive from the Pope. It took its name from the "bulla" or seal attached to the letter.

The Universiade "Bolla" was a giant scroll. It began its journey at the University of Sassari in Sardinia, where it was signed by rector Pasquale Marginesu.

After visiting Cagliari, the bull travelled to Sicily and then to the mainland at Bari.

"The transference from one university to another will be effected under the supervision of the Presidents of the university sports centres," said organisers.

By the time it arrived in the Games city of Turin, it contained the signatures of the rectors from 32 Italian universities.

The Opening Ceremony was held at Stadio Communale (now the Olympic Stadium). At shortly after 10pm, Italy’s Minister of Sport and Tourism Umberto Tupini made the formal declaration to open the Games.

Then came the arrival of the "bolla" through a guard of honour of flaming Torches.

The 1970 Torch used in Turin ©Philip Barker
The 1970 Torch used in Turin ©Philip Barker

The Ceremony protocol orders read: "From a gate close to the official stand, the "Bull’’ of the Games will be received by an athlete of the Turin University sport centre (CUS Torino), who followed by 10 athletes of the same group will bear the bull to the podium. The bull will then be handed to the athlete pronouncing the oath."

The chosen competitor was swimmer Paolo Pucci, who had already been in action in the pool as competition had begun earlier in the day.

‘’We swear that we will participate loyally and fairly in the Universiade – World Games of University sports and we will respect the established regulations, for the glory of student sports and for the honour of our country."

It was, wrote journalist Gianni Cerci, "the most beautiful and solemn moment".

The first Universiade was hailed as a success and after Winter Games were held in Chamonix, the Bulgarian capital of Sofia was chosen to host the second Summer Universiade in 1961. This time there was to be a Flame.

It was lit at the Golden Sands resort in Varna and taken to Plovdiv, a journey of some 375 kilometres. On its way, the column of cars and motorcycles transporting the Torch was greeted enthusiastically by the population, according to Bulgarian newspapers.

Then it headed for SofiaA group of runners entered Vasil Levski National Stadium bearing a Flame which burned throughout the Games.

For the Winter Universiade earlier this year, the Flame was kindled in Turin. After a relay lasting 167 days over 49,149 kilometres, it reached Krasnoyarsk. Olympic gymnastics gold medallist Svetlana Khorkina brought the Torch to the stage, before bandy player Sergei Lomanov struck a ball containing the Flame. This set in motion a spectacular display of pyrotechnics which eventually ignited the cauldron.

Taking part in this symbolic moment has always been a special honour. In 1963, it was Adhemar Ferreira da Silva, Brazil’s revered Olympic triple jump champion in 1952 and 1956 who did so in Porto Alegre. The journey of the Flame has become an ambitious undertaking in its own right. In 1979, the Relay for the University Games in Mexico City offered echoes of the symbolic path of the Olympic Torch a decade earlier. Torches were lit in Ciudad Juarez, Merida, Monterrey, Oaxaca and Guadalajara. Some 2,150 runners were drawn from Mexican universities.

The 1973 Torch-lighting ceremony in Moscow ©Moscow Progress Publishers
The 1973 Torch-lighting ceremony in Moscow ©Moscow Progress Publishers

All five Flames converged on the ancient temple at Teotihuacan to unite before their final procession to Mexico City. A cauldron was lit on the Piramide de la Luna.

The following night, 51 runners relayed the Flame to the stadium where 800m runner Ana Maria Orendain lit what Mexican newspapers called "an original cauldron formed from the letters ‘’U’’ to allude to the Universiade".

In 1983, the relay to Edmonton in Canada offered a foretaste of the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Organisers called it "the most ambitious undertaking of its kind in Canada and perhaps the most ambitious for any world Games".

From St. John’s Newfoundland, it made its way to the host city. Some 1,480 students from 42 Canadian universities took part. Swimmer Graham Smith and volleyball player Tracy Mills carried the Torch in together at the Opening Ceremony and passed it to Jeanna Suzanne Genrisson, who lit the cauldron as Prince Charles and Diana Princess of Wales looked on.

Yet the final moments have not always gone to plan. The most famous malfunction came in 1991. Nick Kates, Athletic Union President of Sheffield University and Sheffield Polytechnic counterpart Nicola Airey passed the Torch to Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut. As she ran, the burning coal fell out leaving her with an empty Torch. She was encouraged to continue her run, but it was a moment organisers would prefer to forget.

There had been other Universiade misfortunes. In 1967, torrential rain caused the postponement of the Opening Ceremony at short notice. Some 24 hours later the Flame was finally brought from the Athletes’ Village by a group of seven runners. It fell to Keisuke Sawaki, reigning Universiade 5,000m champion, to light the cauldron where an Olympic Flame had burned three years before.

After political unrest in Portugal caused the 1969 Universiade to be postponed, Turin stepped in to host again but the Flame did not burn there until 1970.

The Torch used was inspired by the exploits of Pietro Micca, a revered citizen of Turin who had died in the defence of the city during the siege of 1706. It was based on the fuses he used to detonate gunpowder to repel the invaders.

The choice of the final Torch lighter has often been shrouded in secrecy.

At Zagreb 1987, it was basketball star Drazen Petrovic, later a trailblazer for European players in the National Basketball Association, who lit a flaming Torch. He later died in a car crash but his family were guests of honour when he was remembered at the European Student Games in Rijeka in 2016.

In 1999 organisers in Mallorca chose a local star, Barcelona defender Miguel Angel Nadal, uncle of Rafael, to light the cauldron.

The unusual cauldron used at Mexico 1979 ©FISU
The unusual cauldron used at Mexico 1979 ©FISU

In 2001, the first Summer Universiade of the millennium was held in Beijing, a few weeks after the city had won the right to stage the 2008 Olympic Games. Predictably, the Opening Ceremony was spectacular. The Flame was centre stage and flew into the night sky, before a bolt from the heavens lit the cauldron from above.

A similar idea was used for the Belgrade Games in 2009. This time volleyball player Borislav Petrovic lit the a fuse in a tower. This passed an electric spark as the cauldron burst into life.

The Relay for the 2011 Universiade in Shenzhen began at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Students representing the five continents kindled the Flame. Organisers claimed 10 million had followed its progress online as it visited Beijing University and educational institutions in Guangzhou province before arriving in Shenzhen.

At the Opening Ceremony Liu Xiang, China’s World and Olympic 110m hurdles champion and a Universiade gold medallist, was one of a quintet who ignited the five coloured stars of the FISU symbol. The trails of fire raced through a ‘’Gate of the World’’ to a cauldron outside the stadium. This resembled a tower of academic books, inscribed with the names of previous host cities .

It was at the Sorbonne in Paris that the Flame was lit for Kazan 2013, again by students from all five continents. This was in recognition of the first major international student sports meeting held in Paris 90 years before.

"The Torch will travel the world spreading the message of sport and education," said FISU President Claude Louis-Gallien.

It visited each continent before reaching Russia, where it was taken to 27 leading Russian universities before arriving in Kazan.

The 1961 swimming bronze medallist, Yuri Funikov, entered the stadium with the Torch and was greeted by National Hockey League player Nail Yakupov, Paralympian and Nordic skier Irek Zaripov, Yekaterina Gamova, who twice won Olympic volleyball silver and 2012 Olympic judo champion Tagir Khaibulaev. Each moved to their separate platforms around the stadium. Each lit a miniature bowl and the flames from their Torches came together above the stadium to burn in a giant cauldron.

For the last Summer Universiade held in 2017, the Flame was once again lit in Turin and university rector Gianmaria Ajani received it. In a way, he was following in the footsteps of his academic predecessors who signed the original "Bolla" in 1959. The Flame was passed to FISU President Oleg Matytsin and then Ko Wen Je, mayor of Taipei City representing the hosts. Athens 2004 taekwondo gold medallist Chu Mu Yen started the relay.

The Flame visited 2019 hosts Napoli to look to the future and paid tribute to the past, passing through 2007 host city Bangkok and Daegu, the Universiade city of 2003. At the opening in Taipei City, baseball player Chin Feng Chen took aim at a flaming fireball which flew like a baseball into the air to light the cauldron.

Now comes the turn of Naples. After the lighting in Turin, a visit to FISU headquarters in Lausanne and then a journey through Italy before arriving in the Games city for the Opening Ceremony on July 4. The 2019 Torch is made from recycled materials and is intended to send a strong environmental message.