It would not surprise me if you have not heard of the Youth Olympic Games (the YOG). The first games have yet to take place, and they are planned as an international multi-sport event held every four years in staggered summer and winter events complementing the current Olympic Games. They will feature athletes between the ages of 14 and 18. The idea came from International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge in 2001.
The first YOG will take place next summer in 2010 in Singapore; the first winter YOG are going to be in Innsbruck in Austria, that venue having won over Harbin in China, Kuopio in Finland and Lillehammer in Norway. I'm interested in the YOG because curling is one of the sports to be included at Innsbruck when the games are held January 13-22, 2012. A four-sheet curling rink will be constructed in the Innsbruck Exhibition Centre just for the event. The Innsbruck website is here.
To be eligible to compete, athletes must have been born between January 1, 1994 and December 31, 1997 (ie they will be in the 14-18 age group at the event). Perhaps someone can check my arithmetic, but I think this means that if you had your eleventh birthday this year, or you are fifteen now and won't be sixteen before this coming January, then you could be competing in the Youth Olympics in Innsbruck!
There are to be major differences between the YOG and the full Olympics. The YOG are not to be all about 'winning'! Education and culture are to be key components. 'Learning to know, learning to be, learning to do, and learning to live together' have been stated as the themes. I suspect there is a feeling that the games are an attempt to get back to the view of Pierre de Coubertin, the Founder of the International Olympic Committee, who is quoted as having said, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."
At the World Curling Federation's Annual General Assembly in Moncton, a motion was passed by delegates to accept the proposal for the curling competition at the first Winter Youth Olympic Games. The delegates also approved the suggested qualification process. These proposals will now go to the International Olympic Committee for ratification.
The curling events will involve sixty-four athletes, thirty-two of each gender. Sixteen countries will be asked to send mixed teams, and these will compete in a normal mixed curling event, with eight end games. After an education day, the curlers will play in a mixed doubles competition in mixed nationality teams! Hold that thought.
The following countries will be invited: Austria (as host), two from North America, one from South America, three from Asia, one from Oceania and eight from Europe. Qualification will be based on results at the World Juniors, the European Junior Challenge, and the Pacific Junior Championships, in 2010 and 2011. Although not clearly stated, it is likely to be GB representation, as in the European Youth Olympic event. Presumably Scotland will gather the points? How will the four young curlers be selected, as selection it will undoubtedly be. Or will it? Is there any chance at all that an open competition will be held? Will it fall to British Curling to select and prepare our team?
Have a look at the mixed doubles bit again. Now, isn't that different! We will send four juniors, two boys, two girls. After competing together as a four, they will then all compete with someone from Canada, or Sweden, or China, or Brazil (assuming these countries, and GB, qualify to compete). It's the curling version of Blind Date! When I first heard the idea mooted at Fussen in 2007 I was somewhat sceptical. Now I just think, what a great idea!
Medals will be awarded and national anthems played for the mixed event. For the mixed doubles the flags of both team members will be raised alongside the Olympic flag. The Olympic anthem will be played.
Just what the 'education programme' will involve will no doubt be the subject of much discussion, but it may involve the sport's Olympic Champions.
I think the whole idea of the YOG is very exciting. It has the potential to be a great thing for sport in general, and for world curling. Let's hope it is. Makes me wish I was young again.
Incidentally, the YOG will not replace the EYOF, the next venue for that event is Liberec in the Czech Republic in 2011. I cannot find much information about this yet, or even if curling is to be included. Anyone know? Was it talked about in Poland at the last EYOF?