Retro: Sheffield’s World Student Games backed by princess

Princess Anne at the opening of the  World Student Games in Sheffield, July 1991

Princess Anne at the opening of the World Student Games in Sheffield, July 1991

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Only days before her arrival in Sheffield on July 14, 1991 to officially open the World Student Games, Princess Anne slammed the national media over ‘negative’ coverage of the event.

The Princess Royal, who was patron of the games, said: “All they can come up with is a whole lot of negative and quizzical articles, which merely prove they haven’t actually looked round to see what the Universiade is about – never mind whether Sheffield is capable of doing it.

Dancers at the World Student Games opening ceremony in Sheffield - July 1991''''Princess Anne at the opening of the  World Student Games in Sheffield, July 1991

Dancers at the World Student Games opening ceremony in Sheffield - July 1991''''Princess Anne at the opening of the World Student Games in Sheffield, July 1991

“That was, I think, not impressive in anybody’s language,” she snapped.

An exclusive interview with Princess Anne talking about the Games, and recorded at Buckingham Palace was screened on ITV’s Calendar South on Friday, July 12.

Again she reiterated her concern about the British media’s negative Games coverage: “The curious thing, I think, is that it’s not true overseas. The overseas media is interested,” she said.

“Most of the overseas Universiades are greeted with great enthusiasm by other people’s media.

Steelworkers and buffer girls at the opening ceremony of the World Student Games in Sheffield - July 1991'''Princess Anne at the opening of the  World Student Games in Sheffield, July 1991

Steelworkers and buffer girls at the opening ceremony of the World Student Games in Sheffield - July 1991'''Princess Anne at the opening of the World Student Games in Sheffield, July 1991

“I don’t know whether it’s because we are so well off for sporting occasions, particularly in the summer months.

“It’s just somehow felt that it was not relevant.

“I think it is a very curious attitude to take.’

Made up of from the words University and Olympiad, the Universiade is a sporting event dating back to 1924 for students in higher education.

The 16th event was held in Sheffield, the city council firmly believing the World Student Games would go some way to kick-start regeneration in the city, which was suffering from acute economic decline.

Yet the decision courted much controversy.

This was exacerbated when funding for the Games became difficult, with no TV deal or sponsor stepping forward, and the council took control over financing the event itself.

Work to stage the Games included building the multi-purpose 25,000-seater stadium, Don Valley, Ponds Forge Swimming Pool and the Sheffield Arena, with 10,000 seats and an exhibition centre. The Lyceum Theatre was also renovated.

After arriving in Sheffield for Sunday’s official opening event, Princess Anne still found time for the arts. She called in at Albion House – the Games headquarters – to meet pop star David Essex, patron of the Games Cultural Festival, and festival organisers.

She also received official accreditation to the Games and a set of Games first day cover stamps.

Earlier on Sunday afternoon, the Princess had been the guest at city company Thessco, based at Windsor Street, the makers of all the Games medals.

There she met Thessco managing director Paul Tear, Lord Mayor Coun Doris Askham, Sheffield Council chief executive Pamela Gordon, Master Cutler Hugh Sykes, council leader Clive Betts, Lord Butterfield, the patron of the British Student Sports Federation, and federation chairman Tony Lemmons.

She was also entertained by the Hallmark of Harmony Barbershop chorus and the City of Sheffield Youth Brass Band before meeting and talking to members and officials of the British Games squad.

Princess Anne officially opened the Games in front of an audience of around 25,000 people. In addition, the ceremony was watched by millions more people on television, carrying highlights of the proceedings around the world.

For many it was the night a dream came true, the night the sporting world arrived in Sheffield to be greeted by a colourful extravaganza of light, sound and excitement.

It was the night Helen Sharman – Britain’s first astronaut – lit a flame of international friendship in the heart of the city and in the hearts of Sheffield people.

It was the night when the sky above Sheffield was filled with noise and colour of a fireworks spectacular such as South Yorkshire had never seen before.

But most of all, it was the night that saw young people from all over the world unite in a celebration of sporting excellence.

The Sheffield line-up featured 1,200 children and 300 adults bringing the past to life as buffer girls and steelworkers and 150 folk dancers.

The event was choreographed by American Judy Chabola, who was heavily involved with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics opening extravaganza.

There were also 120 Sheffield Guides and 130 Scouts who formed a human Union Jack.

Then began the parade of athletes from around the world who were looking to make their mark over the next fortnight, Some were formal, smart and stylish – others filled the arena with exuberance and excitement.

Canadians dressed in vivid day-glo purple and orange threw their hats into the crowd and the Brazilians brought the parade to a halt as they waved to their fans.

French athletes clowned around, while the Italians carried a happy birthday message to FISU president Dr Primo Nebiolo.

The Hong Kong team must have heard about Britain’s unpredictable weather – they all brought neatly folded macs – while the Swiss made their entry under umbrellas which were hardly necessary on a clear night.

By the time the British team marched in – traditionally in last place as host nation and not so traditionally throwing Roses chocolates as they made their lap of honour – the crowd joined in with a special performance of its own.

Princess Anne praised Sheffield’s efforts in staging the Games during her opening speech. The Princess Royal said thousands of Sheffielders were working hard to make sure student athletes would enjoy the event and perform at their best.

She said: “Sport is about interaction – interaction between individuals, between competitors, those who help and inspire them, those who make it possible to compete and those who watch them.

“Sport is also learning the discipline of your chosen sport, learning to work with other people and learning about yourself.

“Results are not everything. Only you know if you have done your best.

“Thousands of people in and around Sheffield have worked and will be working to provide facilities and the build-up you need to perform at your best.

“I hope you will enjoy being part of the Games. Well done Sheffield and good luck.”

Taking part in the Games were more than 3,000 athletes from more than 100 nations. The event ran from July 14-25.

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