International School Sport Federation (ISF) U15 Gymnasiade Brazil 2023: Hugh Ainsley

The ISF U15 Gymnaside (World School Sports Games) was organised for the first time in ISF history in 2021 in Belgrade (Serbia). It brought together 1.849 school athletes from 36 countries aged 13 to 15 in a multi-sport event (14 different sports), creating a unique context for high-level sports competitions, educational programmes, and cultural exchanges. The educational programme and the sports format of the event shall always be adapted to the age of the participants. This second edition of the U15 Gymnasiade, saw the world of school sport travel to Rio de Janeiro, where school sport athletes will be competing in 22 sports, including 3 para sports, from the 19th – 27th August 2023.

By Hugh Ainsley (Technical Commission for Badminton for ISF)

On Thursday 17 August, I set off for the U15 Gymnaside from Edinburgh on an early morning flight to Heathrow. After 6 hours I boarded a BA flight to Rio and on landing, there was an announcement wishing good luck to the English table tennis team for the event – I discovered that some of the team were in the seats directly in front of me!

I was met at the airport by members of the local team and together with Richard Hudson from English table tennis among others was taken to the CDesign hotel where we were staying for the event. The next day I met up with my colleagues Tanya from Ukraine and Liu from China. We made an inspection of the badminton hall and met with the local organisers.  The badminton hall was on the campus of the Brazilian Air Force university and was adjacent to the wrestling hall and swimming pool. The athletics track was also only a few metres away. The other sports were mainly at the main Olympic arenas used for the 2016 games. Sunday 20th was practice day when we first saw some of the badminton players and met with all the Brazilian umpires and line judges. Unfortunately on this occasion all competing teams found it cheaper to pay the fine for not bringing an umpire then to pay for an umpire to travel with the team so all officials apart from Tanya, Liu and myself were local.

Altogether there were 18 sports played at the event (including dance and chess!) and there were over 1600 competitors from 48 different nations. On Sunday evening we had an opening ceremony with the flags of all the nations paraded into the hall and a flag ceremony with the Brazilian anthem and the ISF anthem. A player representative took the oath on behalf of the players and an official too the oath on behalf of all referees and judges. An Olympic style torch was brought in and a pyrotechnic display simulated the lighting of the flame.

Competition began on Monday (not for all sports). For badminton we played Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday with the finals on Saturday. A special friendship mixed doubles was organised on Friday afternoon where the players had a chance to play with four different partners from different countries.

There were special activities for players at 4pm each day with special sessions on anti-doping. There was also a fun zone adjacent to the main canteen area at the main Olympic venue. Wednesday was cultural day for all players with no competition on that day. On the evening there was a nations night where each nation had a chance of doing a short performance and stalls were set up to showcase each nation. Liu, Richard and myself joined one of the delegates from Nepal to visit Christ the Redeemer while the athletes were having their cultural activities.

The badminton event ran with no hitches and the Chinese players proved too strong for the other nations and Chinese players took gold in all 5 events. There was a special medal ceremony on Saturday afternoon and as there were no dignitaries at the badminton event Tanya, Liu and myself presented the medals. There were additional medals for fair play for athletes, coaches and umpires.

I managed to see just a little of the athletics and some of the swimming but all seemed to go well there too. All athletes seemed to have a great experience – I am sure many new friendships were made and there are many opportunities for officials to meet colleagues from other countries and exchange ideas and possibly even arrange exchange visits.

For ISF events there is a standard charge per person (athlete, coach or other adult) per day of 60 euros and this pays for all expenses while at the event so only spending money for buying gifts or extra drinks is required. Depending on the venue of the event air fare can however be expensive. I am however of the opinion that the experience is well worth the expense and effort and would love to see participation for Scottish athletes in future events.  The venue for the 2025 Under 15 Gymnasiade has not yet been decided but there will be an Under 18 Gymnasiade held in Bahrain next October. We had a presentation from Bahrain at Rio and they will be giving part subsidy for the air travel. They intend to have 5000 athletes across 23 sports with at least 2 sports having para events as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Rio. It was twelfth ISF event and I hope to attend at least one more event in the future.  ISF is part of the official Olympic movement and the events are run to a high standard.

Who are the ISF?

Founded in 1972, the International School Sport Federation (ISF) is an international non-profit sport organisation, acting as the umbrella organisation and governing body for national school sport organisations around the world, organising sport, and educational events for youth from 6 to 18 years old. Recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since 1995, the ISF currently consists of 132 members over the five continents organising over 10 events per year and has more than 30 different sports included in its competition programme.  Find out more here: ISF WE ARE SCHOOL SPORT | International School Sport Federation (

For full results from the ISF Badminton Event – Results Badminton – ISF Events (