The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board Announced April 26th that they are putting forward considerations for a Youth Olympic Games to begin in the year 2010. Called the YOG, this initiative will be among the priority of discussions to take place during the IOC session in Guatemala City in July.
The concept of the YOG is to address the decline in relevance of the Olympics among youth culture and, as the IOC described, to provide a system of “education based on the relevance of sport and education based on values.” The YOG would not be a mini-Games, but rather an Olympic series targeted to 14-18-year-olds including the adaptation of different sports that are more relevant to the audience.
The format of the YOG includes a Summer and Winter Game series every four years with an anticipated number of athlete participants in the first Summer Games at 3,000 and another 1,000 for the first Winter Games.
IOC President Jacques Rogge emphasized that the YOG would also offer a new platform for people to learn what the Olympic values are and why they matter to the contemporary world.
The idea of the YOG has been long anticipated, especially with the ESPN X Games series clearly filling the void of relevant sports and competitions among youth culture for the past 13 years. However what the IOC doesn’t quite understand it seems, is that the Olympics, to many young people, have become so irrelevant not because they don’t believe in the “value” of sports per se, but because the Olympics simply aren’t relevant to their lifestyles.
In addition, the complex system of getting a “new” sport into the Olympics is a tangled web of global bureaucracy. Without getting into the whole painful example of what snowboarding went through during it’s inauguration in the past decade, the real challenge for the Olympics is to re-examine the IOC movement in general. What do the Olympics mean today? Athletes in the year 2007 (and definitely by 2010) easily cross borders to qualify for national teams that may not have, say, a bobsledder in Jamaica or a marathoner from Saudi Arabia. And like the “America’s Cup” in sailing, also known as the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup, national teams and brand sponsors are such a mix of a “team” it’s hard to know if you’re rooting for a country or a brand-sponsored multi-national boat of athletes. In the Olympics, by the time a sport qualifies to be an Olympic sport, a decade may have already passed. Like “introducing” snowboarding 10 years after most 10-18-year-olds are already participating. Like highlighting a traditional athlete such as skier Bode Miller who failed miserably instead of wunderkind snowboarder Shaun White? It all makes the Olympics appear completely out of touch. Not that young people don’t know Olympic “values.”
To many young people that we interview in Label Networks’ Global Youth Culture Studies, the problem with the Olympics are the following and in this order: Olympic sports are irrelevant; the Olympics are simply a marketing tool for corporations and advertisers; Olympics athletes are disconnected with reality. In essence, the Olympics misses the lifestyle crossover that is vital for attracting youth culture, particularly youth culture in North America.
Is it likely that the YOG by 2010 will include skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, BMX, freestyle rolling, martial arts, Motocross, urban freestyle parkour, speed climbing, krumping? These would add youth “value” to sports. But not if the IOC takes the tired road of trying to “educate” through a media and marketing blitz about the benefits of exercise through examples of track & field, archery, and sailing.
Still, the fact that the IOC is attempting to address the lack of youth culture interest in the Olympics is an interesting step in trying to maintain their future relevancy. Let’s just hope they can move swiftly enough, and in a credible direction that doesn’t cause more harm than good.