Lighting of the cauldron at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Gangwon 2024. Photo IOC/Ubald Rutar

Do the Youth Olympic Games Matter?

Release Date: January 31, 2024

The Youth Olympic Winter Games in Gangwon, Korea opened with a bang last week and competition continues until February 1. We have all the details, results and recaps on the podcast. Take a listen!

Youth Olympic Games History

The Youth Olympic Games is the brainchild of former IOC President Jacques Rogge. Rogge saw it as a way of getting more young people involved in sport to fight childhood obesity, and expand the Olympic brand among young people.

Unanimously approved by IOC members in 2007, the first Youth Summer Olympic Games opened in Singapore in 2010. YOG has evolved into a testing ground for new sports and formats, and a pipeline for the Olympics. After the death of Rogge in 2021, experts questioned the purpose of the event.

How the YOG Works

Unlike the Olympics, the YOG is just for athletes aged 15 to 18. That may seem a bit odd for sports that don’t have an Olympic age limit, which means some athletes–such as skateboarder Sky Brown–can compete at the Olympics before they compete at a YOG.

The YOG are held in the same years as Olympic Games, although the rotation is flipped so that Summer YOG are held in the same year as an Olympic Winter Games, and Winter YOG are held in the same year as a Summer Olympics.

The YOG has become a good testing ground for sports that want to be included on the Olympic program. New sports like breakdancing and new events such as mixed team skiing and mass start speed skating successfully debuted at the Youth Olympics.

Because this is a much scaled-back version of the Olympics, it’s also a good event for cities who couldn’t host an Olympics to host a similar global multi-sport event. Hosts Singapore and Buenos Aires are unlikely to host the Olympics, so it allows the brand to have a reach into countries they may never have visited.

For host cities that have an Olympic legacy, it’s a chance to reuse those venues. This year’s Winter YOG in Korea reused facilities from Pyeongchang 2018, fighting criticism of white elephant venues.

The IOC Gets into Africa

Dakar, Senegal will be home to the Summer Youth Olympics in 2026, the first time an African has hosted an Olympic event. This edition was supposed to be held in 2022, however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to postpone it for four years.

Does the YOG Matter?

IOC President Thomas Bach called the Youth Olympic Games “a great stepping stone to success in the Olympic Games.” Olympic gold medalists Chad le Clos, Jessica Fox, Petra Vlhova, and Chloe Kim all first won medals at the Youth Olympic Games.

Our friend Michael Payne is not a fan. Michael posted on X, “The YOG was a failed strategy from outset & only kept going out of respect to Rogge – as his principal legacy. The objective get more kids engaged in sport correct – solution to problem totally wrong. YOG does not connect back to schools, expensive & does zero to grow youth sport.”

Other criticisms involve a mixed quality of competition, lack of media coverage, limited quota spots, and rising budgets. Originally intended to cost $15-20 million, Singapore 2010 cost $289 million. The cost of subsequent Games did not balloon to that extent, but initial budgets are now in the neighborhood of $100 million.

We ourselves have not been huge fans of this event, but this year we decided that we need a test event to help us prepare for the long days of competition that we’ll see at Paris 2024. Let’s dig out our multiple screens and see what Gangwon 2024 has to show us!  We’ll have two shows dedicated to the events (or the events we’ll be able to see online). Join us for recaps, officiating/volunteer jobs we’d like to do, and perhaps some feed beefs. Also look for conversation with other TKFLASTANIs in our Facebook Group!

–Alison Brown, with contributions from Jill Jaracz

Photo: IOC