When the world came and played with us. . .

World Student Games, Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield
World Student Games, Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield
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THE controversies, of course, were numerous.

The cost and debt was eye watering, the legacy and benefits were debatable, and the costumes worn by the gymnasts were so skimpy many had points docked.

This was the Sixteenth World Student Games - a 12 day jamboree of sport when 3,300 athletes from 111 countries across the world descended on Sheffield.

Tomorrow marks exactly 20 years since the opening ceremony when Princess Anne welcomed the world to the city and astronaut Helen Sharman famously dropped the games torch.

And, these two decades on - like the demolition of the Hole In The Road or the execution of Charlie Peace - Sheffielders are still debating whether it was a good thing.

While many argue it show cased the city to the world, regenerated the hard-hit Don Valley area, brought first class entertainment here and resulted in some of the country’s finest sporting facilities being built, others argue it was an inordinately expensive white elephant which inspired little interest outside the athletes village itself.

“I know it’s come in for criticism but I still think it was a massive positive for the city,” says Richard Caborn, MP for Sheffield Central at the time and chairman of The City Trust, forerunner of Sheffield International Venues. “It did cost a lot of money and certain things could have been done better but in terms of what it has brought to the city, I don’t think anyone could argue with the benefits.

“For every pound of public money that was spent I’m sure the economy has been greatly boosted by the private investment it indirectly helped bring along over the last 20 years.”

It’s legacy, then, includes the stunning facilities still enjoyed today.

Ponds Forge is still classed as one of the finest swimming centres in Europe, Don Valley Stadium was the first 25,000 capacity stadium built in Britain in a generation, and Sheffield Arena has been an ongoing feather in the city’s cap, likewise the English Institute for Sport.

The Hyde Park flats were given a massive overhaul to use as a student village, and the Lyceum theatre was renovated for the following World Student Games Cultural Festival. More than 3,000 youngsters, meanwhile, were given free tickets to the event.

The problems? Financial mainly. Lack of sponsorship and government funding meant Sheffield City Council had to fund almost all of the £147 million cost itself. This lead to a crippling debt for the city still being repaid today.

Mike Corden, chairman of the City of Sheffield Athletics Club, previously told The Star: “We have the best athletics facilities in the UK but if you asked me as a taxpayer whether the amount spent was a good idea, the answer has to be no. It is reasonable to ask why such an amount of debt was taken on.”

The answer at the time was that it was to help to regenerate Sheffield after the sudden decline of the steel industry- whether that was a price too high remains debated today.

One thing that wasn’t debated, though, were those gymnasts outfits. “Some backsides did slip out,” the New Zealand coach admitted ruefully after her team were docked points.