‘Online and hybrid events have become the new norm’

By Dr Verena Burk, FISU Senior Executive Committee Member, Chair of the FISU Education Committee and Professor at the University of Tübingen (GER)

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, you have decided to postpone the FISU (International University Sports Federation) World Conference on Innovation – Education – Sport in Lucerne, Switzerland, to 2021. How will this decision affect FISU as an organisation, and the World Conference?

It is important to understand that the FISU World Conference is always hosted during the FISU World University Games. Due to the postponement of the Lucerne 2021 edition of the Winter Universiade, the World Conference has been moved to take place in December 2021. For FISU it is a relief to see that the event will take place, and we will now work on the new process and timeline for the different stakeholders.

Will there be any drastic changes made to the Conference next year?  

The main changes will be related to the timeline. While we were close to finalising the lineup of speakers as well as the selection of the papers submitted by scholars all around the world, we will now have a chance to reopen and give more time for more communications to be proposed. Besides of that, the format of the FISU World Conference will remain the same.

Would you consider hosting a virtual event instead of cancelling the 2020 Conference?

FISU hosted this year its FISU World Forum online, so as an organisation, we are open to those new formats. Nevertheless, since by definition the FISU World Conference is an event that is always hosted during the FISU World University Games, there is little chance to host it digitally, since it depends on the organisation of a major sport event. If the sport event can take place, the conference can take place, if the Games cannot be hosted, a possible digital version would first have to be discussed within FISU and with the Local Organising Committee of the FISU World Games in Lucerne. Until now we never had to face such a situation and we deeply hope we will not have to.

Going back to large in-person events will take some time to get used to. Are you concerned this may affect the number of attendees at your Conference next year?

This is a question we do not have an answer to. The FISU World Conference always attracts a large number of participants from around the world, but we are also noticing more and more local (national) attendance in the recent editions. With the FISU World Conference being hosted in central Switzerland, and so central Europe, we do hope to have many participants from the region and, of course, we sincerely hope that the pandemic will quickly end and that we will be able to welcome all the attendees that would like to take part.

The MICE industry has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How do you think this will change our industry, and what measures can be taken, in your opinion?

First I believe that all fields have been impacted and this calls for more adaptability and flexibility for all the stakeholders involved. The development of online and hybrid events has become the new norm and we will have to assess whether this norm will remain temporary or become permanent. A lot of us who are used to organising conferences or other in-person events are used to solving problems, but when the entire world has been hit by the same dramatic shock it forces us to be humble and to note that we have to keep learning and be open to innovation which is one of the themes of our FISU World Conference.