English peace campaigner Hodgson Pratt was proposing an idea at the 1891 Universal Peace Congress in Rome to create a series of international student conferences in rotating host capital cities, with activities including art and sport, but this did not come to pass. At the start of the 20th century, Jean Petitjean of France began attempting to organise a "University Olympic Games", but after discussion with Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Petitjean was convinced not to use the word "Olympic" in the name. In 1919, the International Confederation of Students (ICS) was established to lead university sports worldwide, in 1923, Petitjean and the ICS, organized the first International Universities Championships.
This was followed by the renamed 1924 Summer Student World Championship and in 1925, 1927 and 1928. Another name change resulted in the 1930 International University Games, and was held four more times before having its final edition in 1947. After World War II rival organisations emerged. The Union Internationale des Étudiants (UIE) incorporated university sports games into the World Festival of Youth and Students from 1947-1962, and this event principally catered for Eastern European countries. In 1949, the International University Sports Federation (FISU) was established and held the Summer International University Sports Week, and events were initially Western-led sports competitions.
Division between the largely Western European FISU and Eastern European UIE eventually began to dissipate among broadened participation at the 1957 the World University Sports Championships. This event was not directly organised by either group, instead being organised by Jean Petitjean, which remained neutral to the split, but all respective nations from the groups took part. In 1959, the FISU-organised Universiade in Turin, Italy, became the direct successor to this competition. In these games, the flag, anthem and emblem of FISU as well as the name “Universiade” made their debut. This was a official first Universiade, European competition who became a truly global one, and held every two odd years in different cities.