25th Anniversary of Buffalo’s World University Games

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The world came to our door 25 years ago this month as Buffalo became the first — and last American city to host the World University summer games. 

It was a huge undertaking for the Queen City to host young athletes from 136 nations for 12 days. The event required 18,000 volunteers as drivers, scorekeepers, ticket-takers, nurses, greeters, cooks, and even flag carriers.

The Buffalo bid for the games had been spearheaded by businessman Burt Flickinger, who poured his heart into the effort to the point of exhaustion. Toward the end, he was hospitalized and couldn’t attend the closing ceremony.

Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski said at the time, “We owe an awful lot to this man who has given virtually his entire life over the last four years to make this a success.”

But even as the games were underway, after years of planning, there was controversy.  The games were expensive and Buffalo didn’t have deep corporate or government support. Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski, however, was all in.

Gorski pointed out that taxpayers would not be responsible for any debt incurred by the games.  He said during a live interview at the closing ceremony, “If we have an operating deficit, it will be the obligation of the G-B-A-C, the Greater Buffalo Athletic Corporation, so it’s good.”

While the games left behind a 3 million dollar deficit and many vendors lost money, the games also left UB with a 22 million dollar stadium paid for by the state, plus the Flickinger Athletic Center downtown, and these facilities continue to draw sporting events to Buffalo, even 25 years later.

This television station, WIVB-TV, was the official station of the games and provided hours and hours of live coverage of the event. Those of us who were deeply involved in the University games will never forget the emotion and energy these accomplished young international athletes brought to our city. A quarter century later, though they are now mostly middle-aged, it’s likely they still hold a soft spot for Buffalo, New York, USA.

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