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Primo Nebiolo is one of the top worldwide figures in amateur sports today, having held the reins of the International Federation of University Sports for nearly 30 years.

But two days into his visit to assess Buffalo's fitness to host the 1993 World University Games, Nebiolo seems more like a clever diplomat and less like the blunt, chatty sports figures Americans know.

Perhaps his caution has something to do with the fact that he is a lawyer, practicing privately in Italy's capital city of Rome.

But if he has been quiet during most of the plays in the game of selecting a site for the games, this referee of the 1993 site designation also has sent some rather confusing signals to the spectators.

After touring Pilot Field Wednesday with Robert Rich Jr., for example, Nebiolo referred several times to a city that Buffalo's local organizing committee had long thought to be a distant third contender -- if that.

"Don't forget Fukuoka, Japan," Nebiolo told The Buffalo News. "The door is open. They have very good facilities and great possibilities for the games."

Fukuoka, a city of 1.2 million people on Japan's southernmost island, Kyushu, was considered out of the running until Nebiolo mentioned it.

Buffalo and Shanghai, China, are thought to be the two top contenders for the games, which are expected to draw more than 7,000 athletes and constitute the second largest amateur games in the world behind the Olympics.

Shanghai has its own special problems. The People's Republic of China is currently in an upheaval with no swift resolution of the country's political troubles in sight.

The China dilemma brings to mind this year's World University Games. Originally scheduled to take place in Brazil, they had to be moved to Germany because of internal political strife.

Wouldn't it seem, then, that Buffalo's chances for landing the 1993 games have taken a quantum leap as a result of the unrest in China? "We don't know what is happening in China," Nebiolo said. "We sent a delegation to Shanghai -- similar to the one we have now in Buffalo -- a week ago. In that moment, it was quiet. But, of course, that was 10 days ago."

Is it true, as some sources have suggested, that Shanghai would have trouble financing the games?

"No, that is not true," Nebiolo said. "They have the support of the state."

What are the advantages of having the games in Shanghai, and what are the advantages of holding them in Buffalo?

"I don't see differences," the president said, but then he added:

"Shanghai is a city of millions, Buffalo is smaller. I believe (support for the games) in Buffalo is officially an organization of students. Shanghai is an organization of the state. That is, the university seems to be behind the effort for the games in Buffalo, and in Shanghai it is the state."

Nebiolo denied rumors that he would rather see Buffalo get the site designation for the 1995 rather than the 1993 games. He also said it was untrue that he is the one member of the 23-member internation council who absolutely must be persuaded if Buffalo is to get the games in 1993.

Some speculate that Nebiolo would like to leave his permanent mark on the International Federation of University Sports by opening the door to amateur sports competition in China.

"I am very surprised by these things you are saying," Nebiolo said in response to these assertions. "I am really very open."

Nebiolo will leave Buffalo at midday today. A final decision on the location of the 1993 games will be made during a meeting June 16 and 17 in Duisburg, West Germany.

Burt P. Flickinger Jr., chairman of the World University Games Local Organizing Committee, expressed confidence in Buffalo's chances of winning the designation.

"Eighteen months of planning and promotion, and it all comes down to this visit," Flickinger said. "As they say in Hollywood: 'It's show time.' "

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