Tomorrow, Saturday 16 August, the international sport fraternity will witness the official opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games.
Earlier this week a Vincentian delegation left for the 2nd edition of the Summer Youth Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Nanjing, China, 16 – 28 August 2014. The team is small, comprising only four athletes. This is however one more than we had attending the inaugural Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010.
Despite what many may say to the contrary, the sporting world would be closely monitoring the performances of athletes from the 204 National Olympic Committees represented in the hope of identifying the stars of tomorrow in the different sporting events contested in Nanjing.
The international media as the latest generation of Olympic Champions will herald winners, much to the chagrin of the International Olympic Committee.
The idea of establishing the Youth Olympic Games emerged from the former president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge.
Rogge, while serving as president of the European Olympic Committees (EOC), introduced the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) celebrated amongst the members of the EOC.
The concept of the Festival was to bring together the youths of the continent, aged between 14 – 18 years, in friendly sport rivalry but with a significant difference from the Olympic Games.
Among other things the EOC hosts the event – winter and summer versions – with the following objectives:
- To offer the youths of Europe a first Olympic experience
- To engage in European youth in Olympic education, promotion of the Olympic values and motivate them to live sport for its own sake and personal development and commit to a healthy lifestyle.
- To offer European youth an opportunity to meet, share and experience each other’s culture
- To facilitate social solidarity amongst European youth
- To offer European cities an opportunity to experience the bidding process relative to hosting multisport Games and to enjoy the immense benefits – economic, social and cultural – associated with bringing European youth together in a major sporting spectacle.
It was the success of the EYOF over the past 23 years that prompted Rogge, as president of the IOC, to have the IOC consider the introduction of the Youth Olympic Games (YOG).
The necessary background work was undertaken and at the IOC Session in Guatemala City, Guatemala, in 2007, the IOC approved the establishment of the YOG with the first edition being the summer version, scheduled to take place in Singapore.
It should be noted that prior to the IOC’s decision there was much discussion globally about the merits and demerits of introducing such an event. There were those who felt that the IOC was forcing children too early into competition and that the YOG would end up creating more problems for the sport development process in different countries.
In response the IOC determined age limits for the YOG such that children who should not yet begin specialising in sport would be outside the participatory cohort.
The IOC was also insistent that the YOG would have a maximum size in an effort to avoid any threat of the gigantism that once plagued the open Winter and Summer Olympics until recently. Once this decision as taken the respective international sport federations (IF) had the arduous task of determining the qualification process needed to arrive at the selection of the quota given to each of them and still leave room for what is referred to as universality places – where athletes are invited to participate to complete the quote and allow the IOC to show that indeed the Games were open to all of its 205 members at the time.
The YOG would therefore also be available to cities from countries that are deemed unlikely to host the modern Olympic Games, thereby limiting, in a sense, the number of cities likely to bid for the quadrennial YOG.
Some NOCs had been singled out to have Athletes’ Ambassadors, who were mandated by the IOC to play a role in their respective countries, encouraging participation in sport and promoting the Olympic Values. Several NOCs were not fortunate enough to have been allocated an Athletes’ Ambassador and they are yet to be offered an acceptable explanation for this fact.
The IOC insisted that the YOG would deemphasise winning and urged that winners not be labelled Olympic Champions, in order to be consistent with the original intent in establishing the event. This latter aspect has proven most difficult to accomplish as the international media were quick to promote the winners in much the same vein as they do with the open Olympic Games. Indeed, at the London Olympics in 2012, it was common to hear announcers at events introduce athletes as Youth Olympic Champion of 2010 in stark contradiction to the IOC’s dictates.
Team SVG 2010
St Vincent and the Grenadines was anxious to participate in the inaugural YOG in Singapore.
The eligible sports were duly informed of their qualifiers by their respective IFs. At the end of the qualifications there was no Vincentian athlete who had earned the right to participate in the YOG.
The IOC then allocated three places to St Vincent and the Grenadines as follows: One male (Renaldo Charles) and one female (Shantal Rouse) for Athletics and one female (Dasreen Primus) for Taekwondo.
The athletes were afforded the opportunity to compete at different competitions prior to leaving for the inaugural YOG in Singapore.
At the YOG, none of the athletes made it through to the finals of their respective events.
The local delegation did indicate on their return that they had an experience of sharing at the YOG that had an impact of them. This view was consistent with what resonated around the international Olympic Family.
The IOC voted to award the YOG of 2014 to Nanjing. China. From very early the organisation insisted that the event should not be of the scale used by China in Beijing in 2008 that served as a sort of coming out party for the world’s most populous nation on the world stage.
The Vincentian team to YOG 2014 comprises:
Male Beach Volleyball – Rodell Fraser and Delshun Welcome
Athletics – Deslorn Lawrence
Swimming – Adora lawrence.
Swim Coach – Kyle Dougan
Chaperone – Rosmund Griffith
Chief of Mission – Shaun Young
Once more the eligible sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines would have been informed by their respective IFs of the qualification bar each had set up to facilitate team selection across the Olympic Movement.
Some athletes here who have been doing well have been hard done by the age limits set. The most painful, in a sense, must be Shne Joachim, who has set records across the Caribbean, the latest being at the Carifta Swim Championships earlier this year in Aruba and despite her outstanding achievements at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games where she has already qualified for the Pan American Games scheduled for Toronto, Canada, in the summer of 2015.
Unfortunately for our swimming fraternity Shne has been declared too young by the IOC to participate in the YOG 2014.
Shafiqua Maloney, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ first gold medallist at the Central American and Caribbean Age Group Championships held in Curacao in 2013, and outstanding junior athlete at the secondary school and national levels, suffered a fate similar to that of Shne Joachim.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has however, for the first time, qualified athletes to contest the YOG. The Beach Volleyball pair of Rodell Fraser and Delshun Welcome defeated a host of contenders at the qualification competition and so earned the right to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines at YOG 2014. Interestingly, at the qualifiers, the favourites were the Vincentian female pair but they f ell short as the boys climbed to the top position to qualify.
St Vincent and the Grenadines had initially been awarded four universality places – two male athletes for beach volleyball, one female athlete for swimming and one female athlete for athletics. Once the beach volleyball players earned their qualifying spot the universality placed allocated to this country in that sport was immediately taken away.
The age limitations therefore allowed for the selection of the female athletes travelling to the YOG for swimming and athletics.
The exposure at such an early age to a major competition involving 204 countries is an obviously delightful experience for our Vincentian athletes.
Despite the limited facilities available to them the athletes continue to benefit from the programmes developed by their respective national sports associations as happens with their older counterparts who remain at home.
There has to be renewed effort by national associations to lift their respective standards if we are to make headway at the international level.
Parents and teachers ought to realise that increasingly, opportunities are being made available to their children and students at a younger age. These are experiences that would serve them all very well in the years ahead of them.
The challenges are not insurmountable. It would necessitate closer collaboration amongst the local sports fraternity to facilitate sustainable development and more rapid movement long the pathway to success at the international level.
Kineke Alexander has shown the way in many respects and continues to lend support to those who come after her.
Young Shne Joachim is a fine example of an athlete who combines her academic development with that of her sport training and competition enough to do well at both.
Nickolas Sylvester is also a young man with a great deal of commitment to personal development through sport.
Rodell Fraser and Delshun Welcome are fine young beach volleyball athletes with a bright future.
Examples are to be followed. There is an awesome responsibility upon the shoulders of those who have come forward and done well and can be held aloft as good examples to follow. They have to show the way by evermore committing themselves to sustainable development at their respective endeavours and always to be courteous and humble.
The YOG is an important development pathway along the Olympic Movement. The values attendant to sport would certainly serve the athletes a lifetime. With that they can positively influence successive generations of Vincentians.