Empowering youth to build an Olympic future

Updated: 2016-02-17 10:15

By Thomas Bach(chinadaily.com.cn)

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Empowering youth to build an Olympic future

Zhu Zhenyu, flagbearer of China, holds Chinese national flag at the opening ceremony for the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway on Feb.12, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]

As a former athlete, I remember the excitement that accompanied the first nomination to represent my country. Many of the young athletes that will participate in the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, this week will also share this special moment when the sport they love changes their lives. Hopefully, this experience will be a springboard for many of them for future success in their sport and their life. The Youth Olympic Games connect young athletes to Olympic Values of excellence, friendship, respect and fair-play – values that will serve them well both in their sports and their future careers.

This is exactly what makes the Youth Olympic Games unique. They go beyond the sporting competitions, not only by making the Games an unforgettable learning experience for the universal values of sport but also by building a human legacy. The idea is to engage young people from around the world and inspire them to play an active role in their communities.

Using the power of sport to have a positive impact on his community is what motivated China's Han Yan: He is one of nearly 250 Young Ambassadors and other young leaders from youth programmes associated with the IOC and the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lillehammer 2016. Yan participated at the first edition of the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 2012 before going on to compete at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games in 2014.

Other Young Ambassadors include coaches, students and young professionals, all aged between 18 and 28 years. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they are driven by their common experience at the Youth Olympic Games to inspire other young people to take responsibility for their own lives and the communities they live in. This youth initiative - and many other similar ones – gives young people the power to change their lives and the lives of others. It is this kind of responsible citizenship that the Youth Olympic Games is creating.

For Lillehammer, it will feel like going back to the future. Through the Winter Youth Olympic Games 2016, the city is taking the legacy of the Olympic Winter Games in 1994 to another level. Many venues used in 1994 – such as the iconic ski jumping arena where the Opening Ceremony will take place – have been modernized, giving them a second life 22 years later, to ensure that Lillehammer's Olympic legacy can inspire a new generation of young athletes. In doing so, Lillehammer is laying the groundwork for the future. The true test of the legacy for Lillehammer and other host cities of the Youth Olympic Games will be the inspiration they bring for the next generation of young athletes and responsible citizens. By investing in youth, these host cities are also laying the foundation for the future success of their societies at large. They are fostering talent and inspiring youth with values that will last a lifetime. 

Just like the Youth Olympic Games can be a launch pad for the future careers of these talented young athletes, hosting the Youth Olympic Games can be a springboard for the Winter Games. In Austria, Innsbruck has successfully built on the legacy of the Olympic Winter Games of 1976 by hosting the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012. Lillehammer is pressing the reset button for a new generation of sport enthusiasts in the country 22 years after the Olympic Winter Games of 1994. The Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 will bring the Olympic Games back to Switzerland for the first time since 1948 and into the "Olympic Capital", which is home of the IOC since 1915. What these cities have in common is their recognition of the value that investing in youth can bring to future of their communities -  sometimes this means going back to the future. In all cases, it uses the power of sport to make the world a better place.

The author is the President of International Olympic Committee.


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