NANJING - It is an event in its infancy, and for some, still regarded as an afterthought. But International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Ng Ser Miang believes that it is only a matter of time before the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) grows in stature.
In fact, he says, the quadrennial Games, which kicks off its second edition tomorrow at the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre, could even challenge the Summer and Winter Games, its more established cousins, in time to come.
Ng, one of the pioneers of the YOG, was instrumental in Singapore's winning bid for the inaugural Games in 2010 before serving as chairman of the organising committee. The Singaporean now chairs the IOC's Olympic Agenda 2020 YOG working group.
"The Olympic Games took more than 100 years to become what it is today, so this is still very early days," he told The Straits Times.
"But with social media and given the way that the youth communicate, I don't think it'll take another 100 years to entrench the YOG and mould it into something that the youth really look forward to."
Ng recalled how almost 60 IOC members took to the floor at the IOC session in Guatemala in 2007 to debate the concept and viability of the event.
Then, even within IOC circles, prominent members like former vice-president Dick Pound were vocal in urging caution against adding another event to a packed sporting calendar, noting that the IOC had to be very careful in crafting the educational and cultural components.
The IOC eventually voted unanimously to support the YOG, with the late president Juan Antonio Samaranch describing it as "maybe the (Olympic movement's) most important of the last years".
Four years after the first Games was successfully staged, Ng said the world now has witnessed the "magic" of the YOG and has a better appreciation of what it does for young athletes.
A total of 150 YOG alumni from over 80 national Olympic committees took part in the London Olympics in 2012, winning three golds, five silvers and five bronzes.
South African swimmer Chad le Clos is undoubtedly the biggest star to be unearthed, going on to beat American star swimmer Michael Phelps in London for gold in the 200m butterfly.
Australian slalom canoeist Jessica Fox also beat established champions to the podium when she won silver in the women's K1 event in London.
She told The Straits Times in 2012: "Leading to London, we had an idea of what to expect. The Olympics is a lot to take in but the YOG prepared us really well for it."
So well-received is the concept of the YOG that Olympians at the senior level have spoken of how the youth event's unique sense of friendship and camaraderie is something they want more of at the Summer and Winter Games, said Ng.
"Having mixed teams compete in the events bring elements of Olympism which can never be expressed or experienced at the Summer or Winter Games," he added.
Ng has no doubt the Nanjing Games, which will include rugby and golffor the first time, will increase the YOG's appeal.
He said: "Singapore co-created the first Games with the IOC. Nanjing will entrench it."
This article was first published on August 15, 2014.
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