Wednesday, 25 August 2010

It's a scandal that Youth Olympics aren't older

This month has seen the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, hosted brilliantly (so I'm told) by Singapore. The Games were brought in as a replacement for the World Youth Games under the watchful eye of IOC president Jacques Rogge since 2001 (Cheers Wikipedia!).

But with the full-scale, all-singing all-dancing modern Olympics having been around since 1896 (thanks again Wikipedia), it does beg the question as to why it's taken a lengthy 114 years to give young, aspiring athletes a taste of the world's greatest sporting event.

Whilst, in practice, the World Youth Games probably did do the job - giving youngsters the chance to mingle with athletes from other nations, compete on a world stage and fly a mini-flag for their country (or parents' country, grandparents' country, pets' country in many cases) - it's never quite the same as having the Olympics tag latched onto it.

More so than any other name, logo or institution, the Olympics (and Paralympics) really is something special and it's nothing short of scandalous that youngsters have only just been afforded the chance to compete in their own version.

Ok, so the format has been slightly altered (more on that later) from it's big brother and it has been used as a trial for new events such as the team Triathlon - a stonking success if you believe organisers. But some alterations, such as the emphasis on education and culture and the requirement for the athletes to remain in the Olympic Village for the 12-day duration of the Games, allowing youngsters to mingle and experience the city, can certainly help to reduce complaints from headteachers about taking children out of school!

Some improvements, in my opinion anyway, could still be made as the Youth Games establish themselves over the coming years. As I previously mentioned, the format is not quite the same as the full-scale Olympics, with basketball becoming 'streetball' (innit!) and many disciplines and events not being included on the schedule. Those given the axe include water polo, synchronized swimming (sorry, did I say that was a bad thing?!), the slalom discipline of canoeing and road and track cycling. These ommissions are a huge blow to those athletes who specialise in these areas, refusing them the opportunity to experience Olympic competition at an age where they could be easily swayed away from sport, towards sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll...or something like that.

Really, to make it worthwhile and live up to the Olympic name, it should be all or nothing. Either you give the young athletes the full Olympic experience, or you don't bother at all and reinstate the World Youth Games.

The Olympics are a huge pull for youngsters into sport, especially when their nations and subsequent heroes are succeeding and such an event should be used to its full potential. If kids know that at the age of just 14 they can be competing in an Olympic event as opposed to the unheard of (to them anyway) World Youth Games or the less spectacular London mini-marathon, it would encourage so many more to get into sport and to stick at it.

It's all a snowball effect. Get the kids into sport by having successful role-models and exciting opportunities for them at an early age, improve the pool of athletes to choose from at a later date, improve competition amongst athletes in a nation and therefore be more successful on the global, adult stage...which then gets kids interested all over again...

With the first Youth Winter Olympics due to be held in Innsbruck, Austria in 2012, things certainly seem to be moving in the right direction - it's just a shame youngsters couldn't have been afforded such opportunities sooner.

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