IOC approves Youth Olympics
GUATEMALA CITY ” Olympic leaders voted Thursday to create a Youth Olympics meant to drag kids from computer screens and onto the playing fields. The first is planned for 2010 for 3,500 athletes, ages 14-18.
It would be the first major international sports festival created by the International Olympic Committee since the advent of the Winter Games in 1924. The program was approved unanimously by a show of hands.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said the games would inspire young people around the world to take up sports.
Details must be worked out, but the first Youth Olympics would be a summer games. And with just 3,500 athletes, down from some 10,000 at the Summer Olympics, Rogge said the smaller scope would make it possible for smaller countries to host the competition.
The initial winter games in 2012 would draw 1,000 youth athletes.
The 2010 site will be chosen in February, and Rogge said at least six countries already had expressed interest. The 2012 site will be picked by January 2009.
It wasn’t clear whether the games’ format would be based on an earlier proposal suggesting youths participate without flags or national uniforms ” an idea backed by Britain’s Princess Anne. Several IOC members questioned that plan Thursday, and Rogge indicated the question was open.
Without national identity, “the media may lose interest and the governments may lose interest and the athletes themselves may lose interest,” said Alex Gilady of Israel.
Rogge said all Olympic sports would be represented, but with fewer events. He also said some new, youth-oriented sports might be introduced.
To hold down costs, Rogge insisted that the IOC would not allow any new infrastructure to be built for the event.
Even so, several IOC members said they were worried about costs.
“There will be a lot of overhead here,” warned Dick Pound of Canada, who questioned whether the games would “get one more person” attracted to organized sport.
Rogge said the IOC could afford the cost, which he estimated at $30 million for the summer event and $15-20 million for winter.
Most IOC members agreed it’s worth a gamble.
“Let’s try this one great thing, correct it as we go along,” Gilady said.
And Patrick Hickey of Ireland noted that a European youth games ” also started by Rogge ” “have been a phenomenal success.”
“You see young athletes before they get a big head, before they smell big money and get an agent, and before they begin doping,” Hickey added.
Most important, Rogge aims to transform youths around the globe into athletes.
“Today we observe a widespread decline in physical activity and an increase in obesity” among youth, Rogge said, citing fewer physical activities in schools and the disappearance of open spaces in cities.
He also blamed the rise of the computer culture.
“One can speak of screen addiction,” Rogge said. “Multimedia, with its elaborate graphics … is sometimes more appealing than sport.”