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  • OpEd: YOG Finds Success in Humble Lillehammer


    (ATR) It can be done. The joyful 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer show it is possible to hang the Olympic rings on an event without suffocating gigantism or annoying protocol.

    The Lysgardbakkene Ski Jumping Arena in Lillehammer (ATR)
    For 10 days this month, Lillehammer recaptured a bit of the magic that charmed the world at the 1994 Winter Games. Cold weather, good organization, proven venues and a welcoming populace set the stage. More than 1100 athletes from 71 nations, all teenagers, took to the slopes and arenas. There was competition in more events than in 1994, but 600 fewer athletes.

    There were other significant differences. Lillehammer was jammed with spectators in 1994. The Winter YOG drew few crowds, even with free tickets. While financed in part by IOC revenues from broadcasters, the YOG attracted scant attention from TV or mainline media.

    Most of the global Olympic sponsors had a visible presence 22 years ago. This time Samsung was the only one to make a mark with its virtual reality pavilion in downtown Lillehammer. There was always a line to try out the VR experience.

    The Olympic Park area, with venues and the Olympic Village, bustled with movement. Athletes wandered to the Learn and Share Center or headed to the transportation mall for bus rides to the venues.

    The Learn and Share center featured activities for the young athletes. (ATR)
    They shared an egalitarian transport system with IOC members, sports officials and some VIPs. Gone was the fleet of vehicles dedicated for the officials. IOC President Thomas Bach took the train to and from Oslo when he came for the Games.

    Mag and bag security that’s become standard for the Olympics – including the two previous Summer YOG – was left on the shelf for Norway. All of this without incident, without the stress, without the expense.

    Let’s not be naïve. The Olympics could not thrive as an international event without the hype and attention they receive. The world’s best athletes compete in a spectacle that drives billions of TV rights revenues to the IOC. The YOG, winter or summer, features youngsters who might reach the elite level one day. But it’s not the stuff that makes for must-see TV.

    The money raised for the grown-up Olympics does make it possible for the IOC to support the more humble YOG. Money and other support from the International Olympic Committee worth upwards of $30 million or more eliminated the need for Lillehammer organizers to depend on sponsors or sell tickets to balance the books.

    To reduce costs, many venues from the Lillehammer 1994 Olympics were used in the YOG. (ATR)
    As Norway balked two years ago at a bid for the 2022 Olympics from Oslo, the Lillehammer YOG enjoyed widespread political support, perhaps one result of the sizable IOC contribution.

    The organizing committees for the Summer and Winter Olympics also receive substantial help from the IOC, approaching $3 billion every four years. Maybe by shouldering an even greater share of the Games costs, the IOC could make hosting the Olympics more palatable to sometimes skeptical politicians.

    Making the YOG more palatable to IOC members is an issue. Some members think there are better ways to spend millions to develop youth sport. IOC President Thomas Bach is on the verge of naming a commission to consider that question, before the IOC decides whether to seek a host for the 2022 Summer YOG.

    The answer may be elusive. A series of mega-cities, Singapore, Nanjing and Buenos Aires will have hosted the Summer YOG by 2018. Besides the gargantuan landscape of each city, 28 sports are on the program with more than 3,000 athletes, ideally from each of the world’s 206 national Olympic committees.

    The atmosphere has been far more intimate for the much smaller Winter YOGs of Innsbruck and Lillehammer. Lausanne, 2020 host with a population of 150,000, will be the biggest city to hold the Winter YOG.

    ATR Editor Ed Hula in Hamar (ATR)
    It is obvious that the youngsters at each of the four previous YOGs have enjoyed the experience. Culturally they may be enriched, better they may be at their sport. But for now, just a handful of YOG athletes have graduated to the Olympics.

    With low level of attention by mainstream media, the YOG depend on social media to spread the word. The iLoveYOG hashtag has attracted hundreds of thousands of postings in dozens of languages. It’s indicative of the need for the IOC to exploit the reach of this media stream for young people if the YOG are to continue.

    As much as the Youth Olympic Games are about a learning experience for the teenagers, these humble games of Lillehammer have plenty to teach the adults in charge of the regular Olympics.

    Written by Ed Hula.

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