Philip Barker

Now the Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk has come to an end, all eyes in student sport have turned towards Naples in July.

The Summer Universiade is set to open in the Stadio San Paolo, which first staged a major international multi-sport event 56-years-ago when Naples was the host city for the 1963 Mediterranean Games. 

By a strange twist of fate, an Olympic Games in Tokyo was also on the horizon for many of those taking part all those years ago.

The Neapolitan authorities had only two years to prepare. They had not been chosen until a 1961 meeting of the newly constituted International Committee for the Mediterranean Games (CIJM) in Athens.

There had also been bids from Athens and Alexandria. In the first round, Alexandria were in pole position and Naples needed a tie-breaker to beat Athens. In the decisive round Naples received eight votes over Alexandria with four.

Outside the conference room, a large group of officials from Naples had waited anxiously for the verdict. When the result was announced, they celebrated with ''an authentic Neapolitan reaction".

The Games would set the seal on a golden decade of sport. The Italian sporting community had been waiting a long time. In the early years of the century, Rome had been awarded the 1908 Olympics but the Italian capital was forced to withdraw after the eruption of Vesuvius. The opportunity did not come again for half-a-century.

By the early 1960s, Italy had become used to staging big international events.

The official poster of the 1963 Mediterranean Games in Naples ©ITG
The official poster of the 1963 Mediterranean Games in Naples ©ITG

"The Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo gave a real demonstration of the organisational capacity of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) and with the superb organisation of the Rome Olympic Games last summer, the way was opened for the election of Napoli," wrote journalist Santiago Garcia in La Vanguardia.

"The election of Napoli is good news for all of us."

Over the next two years, intense preparations were made, ready for the arrival of what would be a record 1,500 competitors in 17 sports.

The various Government agencies in Italy came together to fund the Games in what French journalist Serge Laget called "a financial effort without precedent". 

A promotional film before the Games showed final touches to construction work. It also showed rows and rows of Fiat cars. These provided a fleet ready for the Games family with a group of volunteer drivers at the ready.

The Opening Ceremony attracted a crowd of some 80,000. The choir of the Teatro di San Carlo sang the official hymn of the Games, composed by Gino Conte with lyrics by Michele Gaudieri.

In an echo of the Olympic tradition, Greece were the first of the 13 nations to enter the stadium.

The idea of bringing an amphora containing water from the Mediterranean, or Mare Nostrum, introduced in 1955 by Barcelona, was once again part of the ceremony. This time, there was an interesting variation.

Instead of a single bearer, each nation was to bring water from their part of the Mediterranean.

The Moroccans arrived with a giant amphora, carried on a litter by four athletes.

The Egyptians competed under the name United Arab Republic. They brought an amphora which depicted the land of the pharaohs.

The Spanish team were led by chef de mission Juan Antonio Samaranch, later to become International Olympic Committee President. As they entered the stadium, their amphora was carried in by Spanish swimmer Miguel Torres who marched immediately behind flag bearer Luis Felipe Areta, a triple jumper.

The amphora tradition took place at the Opening Ceremony ©ITG
The amphora tradition took place at the Opening Ceremony ©ITG

Torres then stepped up to pour water into a special fountain. This had 13 pipes to symbolise the competing nations. It turned out to be a happy omen for Torres who won 1,500 metres freestyle gold a few days later.

It fell to Sheikh Gabriel Gemayel, President of the CIJM, to invite Italian President Antonio Segni to open the Games.

The whole ceremony was scheduled for under an hour. There was sport immediately afterwards.

On the track, Italy's Olympic hero Livio Berruti led the way home in the 200m in front of compatriots Armando Sardi and Sergo Ottolina. His victory also represented an unusual individual hat-trick on Italian soil in little more than four years. 

He had won Universiade gold in 1959, became 1960 Olympic champion in Rome and now in 1963 he had added the Mediterranean Games title. Berruti was also part of the victorious Italian relay quartet for good measure.

''The biggest ovation was for Berruti," said the Italian paper Corriere della Sera.

These Games were the start of a glittering career for distance runner Mohammed Gammoudi of Tunisia. He completed the distance double, a feat he repeated four years later en-route to Olympic 5,000m glory in 1968.

These proved fruitful Games for the host nation. There was cycling gold for future Olympic champion Angelo Damiano.

In the pool, another star was born. Klaus Dibiasi, a future triple Olympic champion, won his first major international diving title. Over the following decade he was the dominant figure in his sport.

Tennis was part of the Games for the first time and in the pre-open era it attracted some big names.

In the men's singles final, Manuel Santana of Spain faced Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy. The two had met at Roland Garros in the 1961 French Open final. Santana won that day and few forecast anything but a repeat in Naples.

He duly took the first set, but Pietrangeli struck back to level and the match went the full five set distance. 

"It was a chance to see the great Pietrangeli of a few years back, the world class player, who went for the impossible point," said Mario Gheraducci in the Corriere della Sera. "It was the rejuvenation of Pietrangeli."

Naples will take centre stage again this year for the 2019 Summer Universiade ©ITG
Naples will take centre stage again this year for the 2019 Summer Universiade ©ITG

There had been bad tempered play in the football. Spain's match against Turkey ended with punches thrown.

"I thought I was back in Chile," said FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous, a reference to the violent play in the 1962 World Cup. 

Italy made it to the final where they faced Turkey for the gold medal. The Turks had a man carried off and Italy completed a comfortable 3-0 victory. Their squad included a young reserve goalkeeper who had his first taste of a major tournament. In the next 23 years, Dino Zoff was to win every prize that mattered in the game.

As the Games came to an end, Mayor Ferdinando Clemente handed the ceremonial flag to the 1967 hosts Tunis and, just as they had at the Rome Olympics, fans ignited improvised torches around the stadium as they said goodbye.

Teams had been accommodated in hotels in the centre of town. Some even found time to visit the ruins of Pompeii. Many were mobbed by the locals wherever they went.

"Napoli is unequalled for hospitality and warmth," claimed Giulio Onesti, President of CONI.

This year, during the Universiade, the citizens will have the chance to enhance that reputation once again.