Q&A: Singapore 2010

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A piece of sporting history was made in August 2010 as the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG) took place in Singapore. Some 3,600 young athletes from around the world competed in the Asian city–state, and the event provided a key gauge of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) future plans.

A project of current IOC president Jacques Rogge, the Youth Olympics is designed to sit alongside the Olympic Games while also offering some interesting tweaks to traditional Games fare. The Youth Games is part of a new ethos for the traditions of the IOC – engaging a new generation of youngsters who face many other distractions away from the sporting sphere in the modern world. Whilst Singapore aimed to use the Games as a means to leverage its status as an increasingly significant player in the field of event hosting, it also faced the challenge of ensuring the maiden edition of the IOCs new enterprise did not turn into a damp squib. Prior to the event, The Press Association's The Sport Briefing spoke to Goh Kee Nguan, CEO of the Singapore Youth Olympic Games Organising Committee (SYOGOC) about ambitions for the Games, the methods of innovating the traditional sports event structure and how to ensure the event would engage the worlds youth. The Sport Briefing: Unlike other recent major sporting events whose preparations have come under intense scrutiny, Singapore 2010's build–up to the Youth Olympics has seemed to progress relatively smoothly. What challenges have you encountered in preparing for the IOC's first–ever Youth Olympics? Goh Kee Nguan: The key challenges organising the first Youth Olympic Games, aside from those in any projects of this complexity, are that it is a new and only generally defined product. Details such as the sport competition formats and rules, the entire culture and education programme and the overall treatment to the Games were being developed as planning and preparations were ongoing. Many processes such as team composition and qualification, and registration have to be developed as part of the preparation. The short timeline is another challenge. Although YOG in absolute numbers is about the third of a summer Olympic Games and about the size of a winter Olympic Games, it involves all 26 summer Olympic sports played at Beijing 2008 as well as in London 2012. It also involves all NOCs (National Olympic Committees). TSB: How have you looked to tailor your plans, both from an operational and sporting perspective, with regard to the IOC's ambitions for the Youth Olympics? GKN: We have a very good working relationship with the IOC, working on a co–construction journey to collectively define the Youth Olympic Games. Singapore's whole–of–government approach also helped to facilitate the organisation of the Games. Nevertheless, the concerns about security of athletes and dignitaries, the numerous Olympic protocol and commercial obligations, do present a challenge to the less formal, more youthful and inclusive approach to the Games. Notwithstanding, the general approach has resulted in many tangible outcomes as promotion of common shuttle service, give way as opposed to dedicated Olympic lanes and engendering community support are the beginning of the journey towards the IOC's vision for the YOG. TSB: How have you planned to engage young people? GKN: The SYOGOC has kept close to the vision of president Jacques Rogge, focusing on the Olympic values of friendship and respect, whilst pursuing sporting excellence. Engagement of the youths began as early as December 2008. This is done through the Olympic Education programme which was introduced to all Singapore schools. The Friends@YOG NOC–School Twinning Programme, which twins every Singapore school to schools of NOCs, has generated a high level of understanding between cultures and nationalities beyond the Internet, and in many cases actual visits and interactions. A series of festivals known as CAN!(Create Action Now!) Festivals for Singapore 2010 which runs quarterly each with a theme aligned to the Culture and Education Programme (CEP) provides empowerment and ownership to youths in Singapore in celebration of Singapore 2010. As the digital media is a familiar and preferred social networking platform for young people, it has been leveraged for the engagement of the youth for Singapore 2010. Singapore 2010 has launched the WhyOhGee!youth microsite to get youth around the world excited about the Games through youth–centric and youth–generated content. The website also provides a platform for youth expression and participation through Web 2. 0 features such as blogs, multimedia submissions, and forums that build affinity with the youth community with similar interests. It hosts up–to–date information, facts and trivia on the 26 Summer Youth Olympic sports, as well as stories of sports personalities. To engage the growing youth interest for communicating through the digital media, we also developed the WhyOhGee community (www. singapore2010. sg/community) where youths can engage in conversation and interact with one another through forums and groups, and share their photographs, videos, tweets and blog posts. Singapore 2010 athletes coming for the Games in August will also be able to share their pictures and thoughts during the Games either directly through this website or through the Digital Concierge for Singapore 2010. Another digital media initiative is the 3–D Singapore 2010 Virtual World. The Singapore 2010 Odyssey is a web–based interactive platform with cyber–activities for youths to learn about Olympic themes, sports and world culture. It also features the competition venues, the Youth Olympic Village, and the Games in a futuristic world set in 3010. Users will be able to create their own avatars, compete in games and learn more about the Youth Olympic Games. During Games–time, youth athletes and officials receive a Digital Concierge, a mobile personal digital assistant–based programme which will deliver real–time information and services to users. Youth athletes are also given the opportunity to explore different software and technology during their stint here. A Digital Media Centre will be at the centre of the Youth Olympic Village where workshops are conducted to give its young residents a taste of how digital media can be both fun and useful. The Young ChangeMakers Grant is an effort to facilitate the creation of community projects in celebration of Singapore 2010. The grant provides seed funding for short term community projects that benefit the community while it promotes Singapore 2010 and the Olympic Values of excellence, friendship and respect. One of the recent projects was SPO(A)RTS, an Indian dance performance by Raffles Junior College student Supraja who incorporated elements of the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect as well as sports such as basketball and archery into her performance. TSB: What are your goals behind staging the Games, and what does Singapore hope to gain from hosting the event? GKN: Through hosting the inaugural Games, Singapore hopes to inspire youths around the world to live by the values of excellence, friendship and respect and encourage more Singaporeans to play sports and live the values of a sportsman. Singapore also hopes to build Singapore's expertise and reputation as a regional sports hub and provide our local businesses an opportunity to build upon their portfolio in sports business. As part of organising the inaugural YOG, Singapore has also established the Singapore Youth Olympic Scholarship (SYOS) to be awarded at every Summer YOG beginning with Singapore 2010. TSB: The cost of staging the inaugural 2010 Youth Olympic Games has reportedly more than tripled from initial estimates. How much of a challenge has it been to control costs during the global economic downturn? GKN: The cost of organising the Games has increased from the bid proposal as a result of finer definition of the Games and refinement of specific requirements. Control of cost is always a challenge but in Singapore's usual prudent expenditure, much review and oversight of the budget is being carried out. Notwithstanding the increase in cost, the budget for Singapore 2010 is one of the lowest in any Games of the equivalent scope and size. TSB: How would you assess the success of your commercial programme for Singapore 2010? GKN: With 77 sponsors and partners joining the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, our sponsorship has surpassed the target of S$50 million (US$36. 9 million). TSB: Since the inaugural editions of the Youth Olympics were awarded to Singapore and Innsbruck we have seen a substantial drop–off in interest from bid cities for future editions. How hopeful are you that Singapore 2010 will encourage potential host cities that the Youth Olympics has a strong future? GKN: We are confident that Singapore 2010 will be a success, and youth athletes will have a positive experience, not just in the highest level of competition, but also in the CEP which has been integrated with the sport competition schedule, taking into consideration athletes' and coaches focus on sports. Media interest has surpassed expectations, and the inaugural Games will be broadcast worldwide. Sponsorship has also been most encouraging with active participation from TOP sponsors and partners. We are hopeful that Singapore will play a significant role to encourage keener interest in future bids. The Sport Briefing was published by The Press Association.

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