David Miller reflects on Jacques Rogge’s beneficial original initiative
Pierre de Coubertin, revivalist of the modern Olympic Games, was motivated as much by intellectual education as physical sport, by the moral ideology within sport as its vehicle. Lillehammer’s hosting of the Second Youth Winter Olympic Games next February, admirably illustrates the foresight of previous IOC president Jacques Rogge – now with a surprising innovation.
The objective of de Coubertin, besides possibly adding backbone to a languishing French army, was to re-capture in a prospective ‘International Olympic Committee’ those imperishable virtues of the ancient Games of Greece – as perceived by his first-hand witnessing of organised contemporary sport in England within the maxim of ‘fair play’.
Rogge, anxious about the surrender of global youth to “the tyranny of the small screen” in place of active sport, achieved his ambition of creating the Youth Games in 2010, when Singapore became the first elected summer host from a candidate field including Athens, Bangkok, Moscow and Turin.
Expressing his delight at the time – against a background of many serious reservations mong colleagues concerning costs – Rogge had said: “Youth Games will provide a platform through which youngsters learn about Olympic values and the (educational) benefits of sport”. Lillehammer is providing an added dimension.
In common with every ‘senior’ Olympic Games, Lillehammer will be dependent upon the assistant workforce of volunteers: not to the extent of London 2012 or Rio next summer, but, in Norway’s contribution to the Olympic movement, some three thousand. Of that number, mostly students, 500 places have been allocated to … young foreigners. And – wait for it – the number of applications for those 500 opportunities to experience the unique Norwegian bonhomie and Olympic allegiance we all experienced in 1994, is
beyond the 3,000 gross total required. The number of home applicants is itself nearly 4,000: no pay, accommodation in schools, plus meals.
For determining the foreign assistants, Lillehammer’s organizing committee will base selection on language capability, foremost English, and any relevant experience. Conspicuously heading the foreign applicants are former Soviet Union states – Russia 841, Azerbaijan 356, Ukraine 122, Belorussia 110, plus Germany with 159.
With numbers above fifty, seeking to enjoy working at the legacy venues of 1994 – a wisely low-budget Games – are Britain, China, Georgia and Kazakhstan; in the 40s, Canada, Egypt, USA, France and Kyrgyzstan; in the 30s, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Tajikistan; and in the 20s and teens, 23 nations from India to Nigeria and in single figures 55 others from NOCs from Bosnia to Zimbabwe.
“I’m very happy, it’s great to hear such a pleasant development,” Rogge says. “I’m delighted the concept is appealing to young people, that the identity is not just about sport but about culture and society, the opportunity to meet contemporaries from all over the world. We must hope the trend continues at Buenos Aires [summer, 2018] and Lausanne [winter, 2020].
Inge Andersen, secretary-general of Norway’s NOC, celebrates this extension of the Olympic envelope. “I think the numbers of volunteers wanting to come to Norway reveals a practicality, an opportunity to get to know another part of the world, to experience a nation beyond those attending as athletes.”
In a manageable break-even budget of around 43 million, for a Winter Games embracing 6,500 competitors, the organizing committee calculate that housing volunteers will cost $17 per person per day. Theirs will not be a festival on the lavish scale of last year’s Youth Summer Games at Nanjing – at unknown cost, the gymnastics stadium said to be the finest yet seen – yet possibly enjoying higher spectator attendances at many events in this heartland of Nordic sport.
For instance, not many people will have ever heard of Voss, the skiing district in western Norway with a mere 14,000 inhabitants which over the past forty years has generated no fewer than 18 medals in Olympic Nordic sports.
Footnote: In the wake of the recent election of Beijing for the Olympic Winter Games
of 2022, the Kazakhstan currency has been devalued by some 20 per cent – so that the
disappointing, to some, preference for a Chinese host rather than Almaty has proved
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Sport Intern.