NOrth Carolina may not be the location of choice for the Olympics (at least not yet), but it’s on the verge of hosting the next best thing – the World University Games, an international sporting competition for elite collegiate athletes.
Held every two years in locations around the world, the games involve dozens of countries, hundreds of universities and millions of tourists who flock to stadiums and arenas across the region to cheer on their favorite athletes.
Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin made the surprise announcement at a working session last week, shortly after the International University Sports Federation (FISU) voted to allow North Carolina to host the 2029 Summer Games.
“I’m just excited. I’ve been waiting for confirmation of the announcement,” Baldwin said. “We will have athletes from at least 150 universities from around the world in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Greensboro. [It’s a] $150 million estimated economic impact. The largest event ever hosted by the state. It’s huge.”
The Triangle region lost its 2027 Games bid, but the team’s compelling playing field set the stage for this year’s win, Baldwin said.
“When we went to Brussels [last year]unfortunately we were not awarded  Games, but they hinted to us at the time, ‘What about 2029?'” the Raleigh Mayor said. “I said, ‘You come with a contract, we’ll do it.’ Well, they signed the contract today.”
what are the games
Like the Olympic Games, the World University Games also have summer and winter competitions for different sports. The winter competition includes skiing, figure skating, and ice hockey, while the summer competition includes gymnastics, swimming, and archery.
The Summer Games have 15 required events, including local staples like basketball, track and field and tennis. FISU could also add three optional events for 2029, possibly baseball, rugby and softball.
This year’s Summer Games, to be held in Chengdu, China, is expected to attract around 7,000 athletes who will compete in 18 sporting events over 12 days. The 2029 North Carolina games are tentatively scheduled for July 13-25, but those dates could change, according to Hill Carrow, chairman and CEO of the North Carolina Bid Committee.
This is only the second time the United States has hosted the Summer Games. The last summer competition in the United States was in Buffalo, New York in 1993. The Winter Games have also occasionally come to the United States. Lake Placid, New York hosted the 1972 Winter Games and will host them again this year.
Student athletes ages 18-25 will likely compete at some of the triangle’s top athletic complexes, including WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary Tennis Park and the USA Baseball National Training Complex, all in Cary.
Over the past two decades, the city has invested more than $20 million in the construction and expansion of world-class athletic facilities, attracting the attention of several national and international competition organizers. WakeMed Soccer Park has hosted international friendlies as well as professional championships for men’s and women’s soccer.
And, of course, North Carolina is a collegiate sports hub. Greensboro is home to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and recently hosted the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament. North Carolina has also hosted the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four twice, once in Greensboro and once in Charlotte.
“As an event that brings together the best collegiate athletes from around the world, it’s a natural fit for a state of 130 colleges and universities and more than 350,000 graduate students,” Carrow said.
What impact will it have on the state?
Like the Olympics, the World University Games require local officials to band together in a massive organizational effort in the years leading up to the Games. The host cities are responsible for conducting the competition in accordance with FISU guidelines, paying the on-site costs of staging the games and accommodating the participating athletes, coaches, support staff and officials.
Policies for the Games are unique to each city, but include some general requirements such as payment of insurance and medical care for athletes and staff.
The local “Organizing Committee” is also responsible for transportation to and from the venues, appropriate “venues, facilities, materials and equipment” for each event, interpreters for international delegations, and more than 20 guides and manuals for participants, staff and how the athletes’ village plan and the competition plan.
In return, the local organizing committee receives the revenue from ticket sales, national media coverage, national television broadcasting, and national and international marketing and sponsorships. Overall, the games are expected to bring more than $150 million to North Carolina, according to Carrow.
The chairman likened it to a “major corporate move … but with the added benefits of significant international tourism and global branding for our state and local communities.”
“The award…is the culmination of an extensive five-year effort by more than 1,000 individuals, 13 universities, five cities, five counties, the state of North Carolina and 53 corporate and organizational sponsors to bring this amazing event to fruition,” Carrow said.
The international awareness of the games is probably just as valuable as the income generated. An event like this could put North Carolina on the map as a destination for future sporting events, corporate headquarters, and tourists.
“Our state has world-class facilities, a deep passion for collegiate sports and legendary Southern hospitality that will make these Games a success,” Gov. Roy Cooper tweeted last week.
The Games could give North Carolina a “unique opportunity” to showcase the state to a global audience of more than 400 million, Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said, “including our renowned universities and all that our great state has to offer.”