1991 Summer Universiade

The 1991 Summer Universiade, officially known as the XVI Summer Universiade and generally referred to as the World Student Games, were held in Sheffield, England from 14 to 25 July 1991. The Games were the largest sporting event to be hosted in the United Kingdom since the 1948 Summer Olympics.

XVI Summer Universiade
Host citySheffield, United Kingdom
MottoThe Future of Sport
Nations participating101
Athletes participating3,346
Events11 sports
Opening ceremony14 July
Closing ceremony25 July
Officially opened byAnne, Princess Royal
Torch lighterHelen Sharman
Main venueDon Valley Stadium

Sheffield City Council saw the event as a catalyst for urban renewal and regeneration after industrial decline.[1][2] It set up a company, Universiade GB Ltd, to run the games. New facilities built for the event included the centrepiece Don Valley Stadium and other arenas, while the Lyceum Theatre was renovated for the associated cultural events.[1]

More than 3,300 athletes took part from 101 countries, including the first appearance of a unified German team at a Summer Universiade.[3]

Preparation and developmentEdit

Sheffield was selected as the host for the 1991 Universiade at a meeting of FISU's (Federation Internationale du Sport Universitaire) Executive Committee in the city in February 1987.[4] In the runup to the games, Sheffield Central MP Richard Caborn claimed that the Games would:

'be three times bigger than the Commonwealth Games, with 125 countries and 7,500 sportsmen participating. Sheffield will be a window to the world'.

Despite initial excitement, lack of central government funding and sponsorship led to the organising company, Universiade GB, going into liquidation in the summer of 1990 with debts of more than £1 million. Sheffield City Council stepped in to run the games using taxpayer money. When asked for financial assistance, the Conservative-led national government declined to offer support.


The three major venues for the events were all built especially for the event, on land formerly occupied by various industrial works. Don Valley Stadium, the centrepiece for the Games, was completed in September 1990, at a cost of £29 million. It was the first entirely new outdoor sporting arena built in Great Britain since Wembley in 1923. With a capacity of 25,000, it was twice as large as the second-biggest athletics arena in the country, Crystal Palace.

Ponds Forge, named for the former steelworks demolished to make way for it, hosted the watersports events. Sheffield Arena opened in May 1991 as a multi-purpose venue and took on the role of the Gymnastics Hall for the Games.

Other venues included the Concord Sports Center in Shiregreen and Hillsborough Stadium. The football tournament was held across Yorkshire; at Huddersfield, Chesterfield, Wakefield, Bradford, Scunthorpe and Stocksbridge, with the final played at Hillsborough.


Hyde Park flats during the 1991 Summer Universiade

Hyde Park flats near Sheffield City Centre were used for accommodation for the athletes during the games. Built in the 1960s, many had been demolished, with those left being specially refurbished for the Games.


The medals were forged by Thessco, a Sheffield-based mint, who charged no fee for their manufacture. The medals' designs were selected through a national student competition, and the final design bore the Yorkshire Rose.[5]


The organisers struggled to find a live broadcast partner with any of the three major terrestrial networks (BBC, ITV or Channel 4), so a deal was signed with BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting). However, at the time only 1.5 million households had access to satellite television, thus reducing the potential audience. Highlights were shown on Yorkshire Television, with commentary from John Helm and Gary Bloom.

Opening ceremonyEdit

The opening ceremony included a performance honouring Sheffield's industrial heritage, with participants wearing flat caps and waistcoats and carrying hammers, choreographed by Judy Chabola, who had been involved with the opening ceremony of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Sheffield native Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut, attracted publicity when she tripped and dropped the games torch, extinguishing it; the flames were lit by the ignitor in the flame bowl itself.[6]

The Games were then officially opened by Princess Anne.


Medal tableEdit

  *   Host nation (Great Britain)

1  United States (USA)29242578
2  China (CHN)21181150
3  Soviet Union (URS)12142046
4  North Korea (PRK)113519
5  Italy (ITA)67821
6  Japan (JPN)516728
7  Germany (GER)49518
8  Great Britain (GBR)*45514
9  South Korea (KOR)42410
10  Canada (CAN)34916
11  France (FRA)3148
12  Hungary (HUN)3115
13  Ireland (IRL)3104
14  Poland (POL)23611
15  Australia (AUS)2327
16  Netherlands (NED)2204
17  Romania (ROM)1315
18  Nigeria (NGR)1203
19  Jamaica (JAM)1102
20  Bermuda (BER)1001
  Chinese Taipei (TPE)1001
  Finland (FIN)1001
23  Spain (ESP)0325
24  Cuba (CUB)0112
  Norway (NOR)0112
26  Malaysia (MAS)0101
  Mexico (MEX)0101
  Sierra Leone (SLE)0101
  Yugoslavia (YUG)0101
30  Belgium (BEL)0022
31  Indonesia (INA)0011
  Kenya (KEN)0011
Totals (32 nations)120128121369


Despite the initial high hopes that the Games would foster regeneration in the city, heavy financial losses continue to burden the Games' legacy. Whilst the event cost a reported £10 million to host at the time, with building costs predicted to reach only £25 million, by the opening ceremony construction had already cost £174 million. Loans taken out to build the three main arenas - Don Valley Stadium, Ponds Forge International Sports Centre and Sheffield Arena - have been refinanced four times in the years since, with the final cost coming to £658 million when it is paid off in 2024.[7][8]

The Don Valley Stadium was used in later years for a variety of events, including rugby league, American football and as Rotherham United's home ground during the construction of New York Stadium. It was demolished due to budget cuts in 2013.[9]

The 1991 Summer Universiade remains the only time that the Games have taken place in the United Kingdom.


  1. ^ a b "Troubled student games 'were almost scrapped'". Sheffield Telegraph. 3 April 2009. Archived from the original on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  2. ^ "World Student Games: Sheffield's forgotten sporting spectacle". BBC News. 18 July 2021. Retrieved 19 July 2021.
  3. ^ "Spotlight: Remembering the Sheffield 1991 Summer Universiade". www.fisu.net. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  4. ^ "Sources for the Study of the World Student Games, 1991" (PDF). www.sheffield.gov.uk. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  5. ^ "ON THIS DAY: 1991: World Student Games get underway in Sheffield - PICTURES AND VIDEO". www.thestar.co.uk. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  6. ^ Levy, Glen (27 July 2012). "1991 World Student Games | The Worst Ever Opening Ceremonies". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  7. ^ "Sheffield's World Student Games £658m debt 'disaster'". BBC News. 14 July 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  8. ^ "Sheffield is still counting the cost 20 years on". TaxPayers' Alliance. 28 March 2011. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  9. ^ "Rotherham future remains unclear". 10 July 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2022.