| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Youth Olympics interview

This August sees the very first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. We caught up with Brigadier General GOH Kee Nguan, the CEO of YOG for a sporting chat

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This is the first time the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) has been staged. Tell us about it...
It’s a huge event involving around 5,000 participating athletes from 205 countries including young athletes from the UAE. The trials for final selection for those participating are taking place now and the competitors are all aged 14 to 18. The qualification for certain events will continue until mid June and then we’ll know who’ll be part of the UAE team.

Why is the YOG being launched now?
It’s been in the pipeline since 2007, and we’ve had the European Youth Olympic Festival, which was then followed by the Australian Youth Olympic Festival – so launching the Youth Olympic Games was a natural progression. The key reason has been a desire to draw young people back into sports. Kids today tend to be far more involved in virtual games rather than actual physical sports. This is aimed at encouraging them to be more active as well as more culturally aware.

It’s a very busy year for sports though, isn’t it?
It is. We have the Vancouver Games, then the World Cup and the Youth Olympic Games, so it’s a packed calendar. But as this is the first Youth Olympic Games, that does make it much more exciting. The main thing to remember is that when young people are involved in sports, whole families and friends turn out to support them, and they’ll travel huge distances to do that. The initiative becomes a much more community-driven event, whereas the adult Games events are perhaps considered more commercial and elitist.

So, are the kids in the Youth Olympics getting off lightly in terms of competition?
Not at all. The element of excellence is still very strong. We aren’t trying to diminish the value of competition. The athletes will of course be in an environment where they will be encouraged to perform to the best of their abilities. Because they are younger sportsmen, some of the events and categories have been tweaked to suit them, though.

How’s that?
Well, even small age differences between athletes at this stage can stand against them in competitions, so we have a maximum two-year age difference between competitors in events. We wouldn’t have a 14-year-old competing against an 18-year-old for example. And in the aquatics events, we’ve scrapped synchronised swimming and water polo, but we’ve included basketball with a street style because it’s more applicable to the young people. And instead of the canoeing event being a boring, straight speed race, we’ve added a few obstacles, twists and turns to make it more fun.

The Olympics is great, but it’s hardly hip and trendy. How are you making the YOG appealing for young people?
Kids of today are all into technology in a big way, so we’ve had to swot up on a few things. We’ve got a YOG Facebook page, we’ve gone live on Twitter and Flicr, and we’ve even created a virtual Youth Olympics Games world, where you can log on and choose your Avatar character and you can participate in all the events as well as taking a virtual tour of the Olympic Village. In fact, competitors are logging on already to familiarise themselves with the event.

Tell us about the Olympic Village.
With the YOG, we’re trying to take the event back to those core values of excellence, respect and friendship, so we’re doing our best to keep commercialism at bay. For the very first time, competitors will be taking part in a cultural integration programme of activities to improve their understanding of the many nations involved in the games. They will be assigned tasks, which include setting up stalls in the village that represent their countries and they’ll take part in team building exercises and activities that will increase their understanding of their fellow athletes.

What’s the event trying to achieve?
Lots of things. Competition is something that pushes young people to achieve levels of excellence they may not have thought possible. We’re also trying to bring young people from lots of different nations together, and we’re planning to make it a community event as much as possible. We have a school twin programme [an elementary school and a secondary school from the UAE have been twinned with two schools in Singapore] and we’re getting all the different embassies involved too.

What do the five Olympic rings represent?
They represent the five continents of the world. That’s Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

Will there be a YOG torch relay?

Good question. The last true Olympic Torch relay was during the Beijing Olympics – and it was actually dropped from future ceremonies due to political problems. We have persuaded the Olympic Committees to allow a torch ceremony in each of the cities across the world to mark the opening of the YOG. There won’t be a traditional torch relay race though.

How can we get involved?
There’s the volunteer programme. We are still looking for volunteers who can act as translators for the competitors and the visitors. You can also buy tickets online to come and see the event in Singapore. And if you can’t make it, don’t worry – it will be broadcast live over the internet so you can keep up to date with all the events.
For more information on tickets, YOG events and volunteer programmes, visit www.singapore2010.sg

By Karen Iley
Time Out Dubai,

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