What happens when you cancel the Youth Olympics?

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The 2022 Youth Olympics were scheduled for Dakar, Senegal, in October and November, the first Olympic event held in Africa. Like many other events during the COVID-19 pandemic, the quadrennial event has been postponed by the International Olympic Committee. But in this case, the IOC made the decision to postpone the event to 2026, a full four-year cycle, instead of giving Senegal a year or two to host the event safely.

Increasingly, the IOC is using the YOG as a test for potential future Olympic sports. Skateboarding and sport climbing both debuted at the YOG 2014 before appearing at the 2020 Olympics, and freestyle skiing’s big air event debuted at the YOG 2020 before appearing at the Olympic Games in 2022. Breaking will make its debut at Paris 2024 after a successful trial in Buenos Aires in 2018. Dakar 2022 was to feature Wushu and a street variation of baseball called Baseball5.

All athletes who had planned to compete in the 35 sports scheduled in Dakar will feel the loss of the event. Without the YOG in 2022, many elite athletes aged 15-18 this year will lose a high performance event as they develop towards the ultimate goal of being an Olympian. “When we were at the Youth Olympics, it was like a real Olympic setup,” Emma McKeon, Australia’s most decorated Olympian, told the IOC in an interview about her YOG swimming experience. . “We had a village, and we had all the different sports; I really enjoyed it and it gave me a little taste of what the Olympics would be like.

The first Youth Olympic Games were held in 2010 under then-IOC President Jacques Rogge, who lobbied for the event in 2007, believing that interest in the sport among young people was in decline. Immediately, the event was designed to promote a balance between high-level competition and “fun”, so it doesn’t seem like the IOC is pushing teenage athletes to see sport solely as a vehicle for competition.

“It has to be fun, it can’t be too serious, there shouldn’t be any gravity that you have at traditional games. That’s for later,” Rogge said at the time. “They are between 15 and 18, and that’s the age to celebrate, not necessarily the age to reach. For me, the measure of success is in the happiness of the athlete. If the athletes are happy, then for me the experience is a success.

Since its first edition, the event has grown to around 4,000 athletes and 32 sports at the last Summer YOG and 1,800 athletes and eight sports at the last Winter YOG.

The bid to host the YOG has been fully integrated into the IOC’s ‘Future Host Commissions’, with the process undertaken by the same members who decide which ‘preferred’ cities in the world should be recommended to members of the organization for host the Olympics.

This process was first tested with the YOG 2022 cycle in 2018 before becoming the official means of selecting new host cities the following year. Dakar was chosen out of four African cities specifically to bring the event to the continent with the aim of producing a viable African Olympic bid in the future.

McKeon, the swimmer, was part of a generation of athletes who enjoyed success at the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore and would go on to repeat that success at the Olympics. One FiveThirtyEight The analysis revealed 49 individual medalists who competed in Singapore and won a medal at future Olympics, according to data from Olympia.

Of these medalists, 15 athletes immediately medaled at the 2012 Olympics in London. Four years later, that number nearly doubled to 28 medal-winning athletes at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and four years later this21 of those 2010 YOG medalists won Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games gear.

For many young Olympians, there is an opportunity to replicate that success in the immediate Olympic cycle – and more opportunities to become Olympians in future cycles.

Youth Olympic medalists have found success at the Olympics

Number of athletes who have won a medal at the Youth Olympic Games and who have won a medal at future Olympic Games, by duration after the YOG that the athlete has won

Event Total future medalists 2 years later 6 years later 10 years later
2010 Youth Olympics 49 15 28 21
2014 Youth Olympics 40 12 31
Youth Olympics 2018 22 22
Event Total future medalists 2 years later 6 years later 10 years later
2012 Youth Olympics 17 3 ten seven
Youth Olympics 2016 13 5 13
Youth Olympics 2020 4 4

These tendencies go far beyond medalists alone. According to an IOC spokesperson, almost 1,100 athletes have competed in the Olympics after competing in the YOG. The number of former YOG who have competed at the Olympic Games has increased from 201 athletes at the Summer YOG in London 2012 to 713 at Tokyo 2020, and from 67 former YOG at the Winter Games 2014 to 341 at Beijing 2022.

It goes to show that there might not be much of an impact for the next Olympics in Paris in 2024 without the 2022 YOG in Dakar, but its absence could affect young elite athletes as they heading towards the upcoming 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Researchers say access to a single high-level athletic competition is rarely the most important part of developing elite young athletes. Athlete development includes many factors and rarely occurs in a linear fashion.

Carrie W. LeCrom, executive director of the Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, told FiveThirtyEight that “qualified and effective coaches are much more critical” to the future success of athletes than going to just one YOG. Having a coach who can help bring out the best in an athlete in a supportive and impactful environment will ultimately help them overcome the absence of the YOG, especially when it comes to a long-term vision of athlete development. the athlete.

“What they’re going to miss out on not having the Games are things like the camaraderie that’s built through competitions like these, the cultural communication and understanding that’s built when people from different countries bring together, and the educational components of the Youth Olympic Games that are such a great learning experience,” said LeCrom.

The lack of opportunities for different events will be felt disproportionately around the world. In some countries, it is likely that YOG athletes will not be able to compete in other high profile events or retain access to facilities without a showpiece to look forward to like the Youth Olympics.

Eric Legg, a professor at Arizona State University who studies community sports experiences, told FiveThirtyEight that postponing the event would definitely be a “big disappointment” for any athletes looking to make it to Dakar this year. However, in general, the YOG did not increase sports participation around the world as much as its creators had hoped.

Without an event in this cycle, the empty space could give sports organizations the opportunity to look at the overall landscape and make the necessary adjustments to fill the gap more comprehensively to foster a supportive and strong environment for young athletes – that is, if these organizations choose to invest the resources. Additionally, promoting the goals and achievements that athletes can achieve below the YOG will make the YOG and the Olympic Games more accessible and help athletes stay involved in the sport longer, so they are not discouraged from not not be part of the pool of elite athletes.

“There are a small number of young people who are interested and able to compete at elite levels,” Jon Solomon, editorial director of the Sports & Society program at the Aspen Institute, told FiveThirtyEight. “The challenge is that in our society’s quest to keep up, we have created a youth sport system that leaves too many children behind due to income and ability.”

With a shift in the YOG calendar offered by the postponement to Dakar 2026 and no events scheduled except for the winter 2024 edition in Gangwon, South Korea, this postponement could be the opportunity for the organization to rethink its place in the sports landscape of young people. Some investment in high performance youth events has been made at continental level, but a review of the effects of these events on grassroots youth sports is warranted.

“The race to the top among young athletes has created a chasm in terms of access to sport. Like much of society, our sports opportunities for children have become the haves versus the have-nots based on affordability and ability,” Solomon said. “If you don’t have those resources, there have been fewer and fewer options over the last few decades for affordable, quality local sporting opportunities.”

Fewer and fewer options focus on events like the YOG to fulfill its mandate to interest more people in sport, to compete at a high level and to learn more about others and the values ​​of Olympic Games.

The YOG have succeeded in their mission as they continue to grow in size, incorporate new events and provide high-level opportunities for athletes from smaller and less funded countries. Holding the Games in Dakar in four years ensures that the IOC will fulfill its mission of bringing an Olympic event to Africa.

In the meantime, the IOC says it plans to distribute its educational program to international federations and continental organizers so that these bodies can use them in the junior-level championships still taking place this year. Even without a YOG for training, these events are essential to “enable [athletes] to continue to develop their sporting career at the elite level,” the spokesperson said. “The IOC and Senegal understood that the postponement of Dakar 2022 was disappointing for many young athletes. Both parties can only appeal to their understanding.

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