GUATEMALA CITY (AP) – 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 summer 2010 for 3,200 athletes, ages 14-18.
It would be the first major global 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. All Olympic sports would be represented, but with fewer events, and some new, youth-oriented sports might be introduced. There also would be anti-doping controls.
Details still must be worked out, but first Youth Olympics probably would be played in August 2010, and the site will be chosen in February 2008. It would have just 3,200 athletes, down from some 10,000 at the Summer Olympics, and 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. That 2012 site will be picked by January 2009.
IOC executive director Gilbert Felli said each country would send at least four athletes, chosen at least 18 months in advance – which would mean selecting some at age 12.
It wasn’t clear whether the games’ format would be based on an earlier proposal that 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.
To hold down costs, Rogge insisted the IOC would not allow any new infrastructure to be built for the event.
Even so, several IOC members said they were worried.
“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.
The modern Olympic movement, born with the 1896 Games, is associated with many other sports competitions, notably the Paralympic Games that are held in conjunction with the Olympics. But the IOC itself runs only the Summer and Winter Olympics.
Several IOC members also questioned whether the new competition would clash with existing events such as the World University Games. Felli said that was “a difficult issue” but said games held in the second half of August should avoid major conflicts.
That would put the event one to two months after soccer’s enormously popular World Cup.
Still, most IOC members agreed the youth games are worth a gamble.
“Let’s try this one great thing, correct it as we go along,” Gilady said.
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.”