IWGA Interview of the Month: FISU Sports Director Juan-Carlos Holgado

IWGA Interview of the Month: FISU Sports Director Juan-Carlos Holgado

“The Best and Most Complete Games”

From 28th July to 8th August, the FISU World University Games took place in Chengdu, People's Republic of China. For The World Games families, the ‘trailblazer event’ was of particular interest this year. This is because in two years' time Chengdu will host TWG 2025 (7th to 17th August). In the IWGA Interview of the Month, FISU Sports Director Juan-Carlos Holgado says: "the host met the highest standards for an international multisport event.” A good reason to look forward to The World Games in Chengdu.

How do you look back on the University Games 2025 in Chengdu?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: I look back with a smile and gratitude to the organising committee (OC) and everybody involved in delivering the best Games ever. Having been involved in eight Olympic Games and eight Universiades, the Chengdu FISU University Games have been the best and most complete Games I have ever observed, in all areas. TV broadcast production and distribution, quality and readiness of the venues, transport plans and efficiency, the athletes' village, sports presentation, ticketing and number of spectators, etc., were at the highest standards for an international multisport event.

Despite the many challenges the OC had (COVID and the different postponements, the last COVID wave, the participation issues resulting from the war in Ukraine and the high cost of flight tickets), Chengdu organised an outstanding event that impressed us all.


What was special about the Games in Chengdu?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: We knew the OC was doing its best to offer participants, the FISU family and visitors an excellent event and experience. But what they achieved was over our expectations. If we can define "success as exceeding expectations", Chengdu was a massive success for all of us.

Another aspect that made this event unique to us was the proactivity and professionalism of the OC's staff and their attitude to listening and following our advice, and the volunteers, who were committed, disciplined, well-prepared, dedicated and very welcoming.


Have you got any feedback from your athletes?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: Yes, indeed. Athletes are our priority at FISU, and their feedback is important to us, as well as the opinion of our members (NUSF, National University Sports Federations). Currently, we are working on a satisfaction survey that will be sent to the NUSF soon. Then, we will clearly understand athletes' and FISU members' opinions. However, comments and feedback received on-site from athletes, coaches, technical officials, media, heads of delegations and the FISU family were very positive, and in line with the FISU staff's opinion.


What do you think makes Chengdu a great place to host a multisport event?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: Firstly, the people of Chengdu: their constant wish to make you feel welcome and their interest in everything related to sports and health.

Then, I would add their desire to balance progress and development with health and Ecology. Of all the Chinese cities I have been to, Chengdu is the one where I have seen most conscience, effort and clear action to respect nature and improve sustainability. I like that they aim to balance progress and respect for nature and Ecology, providing their population with a more sustainable and healthy environment. Green areas in the city, new parks, many electric vehicles and ‘green energy’ sources are easy to find in Chengdu.


Have you a ‘Chengdu moment’?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: Many little ones. But one that I still have in mind is the friendship we established with the OC staff. They welcomed you as a friend when working with them for a while. And they meant it and showed it often. 3 years ago I worked with Chengdu OC as Archery's TCC (Technical Committee Chair). Then, a year ago, as FISU Sports Director. In both roles, I got friends in all areas where I worked with the OC. You feel they care and work with their heart. And then friendship starts automatically. 


What were the special challenges and how did you tackle them?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: As usual, when working in China, breaking the communication barriers. Not everybody speaks English, and my Chinese does not exist at all . So ensuring the message is passed accurately and understood, and you receive accurate answers and information, was the main one.

To solve it, finding the right person to communicate with is a must. A person who understands you, and this is not only the language but more what you mean and wish through your expectations and standards. Someone who has experience in international sports events operations. As soon as we found this person, we became more efficient and helpful in assisting the OC.

Another challenge for us was the access to websites and social media. In China, this is challenging if you don't get support and solutions from the Authorities through the OC. Internet access with VPN integrated, provided in Chengdu by the OC for the FISU staff, was handy and very much needed for our work. As soon as this was working well, we had no further issues.

There were no special challenges otherwise, apart from ensuring not to get hot pepper in your meals (with a smile). It is so easy to get a spicy hot meal in Chengdu!!! You have to be alert all the time, even during the breakfast.


You had set up an Observer Programme. What was the most frequently asked question? And: What was the answer to it?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: As usual, questions from participants involved in the FISU Observers programme mainly relate to data and statistics. How many participants, number of volunteers, number of staff members in the OC and how they are structured, the organisational chart with roles and responsibilities, the event budget (overlay and operational), number of vehicles, etc. After these, other questions were more focused on venue operations.


The World Games 2025 will take place in Chengdu. Any spontaneous advice for the preparation?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: The most important for me is ensuring that the OC understands the different sports in your programme, and your expectations. Several of the sports in The World Games are unknown to Chinese people. They might not even exist in China, so they will miss local experienced persons to prepare and deliver these sports. The key to success is to build relations with the OC, find the right persons to communicate with per functional area, and provide the OC with precise information, accurate instructions, and the IWGA expectations.

And then ensuring to keep fluent communication and collaboration. If this is achieved, I do not doubt The World Games in Chengdu will be as successful as the FISU Games we just had.


It is often said that there are difficulties with the use of social media channels in China. How have you dealt with this?

Juan-Carlos Holgado: And it is correct. As mentioned before, if there is no support from the Authorities to access a specific internet network with a VPN integrated, it is very hard or more or less impossible to work on non-Chinese Social Media. We got it from the OC, and our Media team could operate and work with very few issues. One of them was not having access (some days) to the music library on Instagram and Tic-Toc (yes, even Tic-Toc). So, our Media team had to post videos or themes without music these days. For the rest, my colleagues in the Media did not mention other challenges or issues. So, again, we were very thankful to the OC for the assistance received to help FISU Media's operations.


Is there a question that I did not ask but that you would like to answer?

Maybe one: is it of importance getting local persons involved in your team (freelancers or consultants) to support your on-site operations during Games time?

My answer is: yes. Especially for your Media team, to assist in promoting The World Games and its sports in China via the different Chinese Social media. The OC will do its part there with their own media operations, but we felt it was essential for our media strategy for these Games to have our own Chinese team working on Social Media. We did, and looking back, we realise it was a good decision.         

Let me wish the IWGA, its sports and our friends in Chengdu a very successful Games in 2025. We look forward to witnessing a successful event, at least at the level we had a few weeks ago, if not even better. It is a pleasure to have played the ‘test event’ role for The World Games in 2025! FISU is always happy to be helpful and support its partners, and in this case, continuing with the excellent and fruitful partnership with the IWGA. All the best!


 The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association, organised with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games 2022 was held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 7-17 July 2022. 3,600 athletes from 34 sports and 100 countries took part in the Games. The 12th edition of The World Games will be held in Chengdu, CHN, 7-17 August 2025.