David Owen head and shouldersHow much longer will the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) be with us?

This might seem an odd question at a time when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has just revealed the bidders for the 2020 Games.

But I am far from convinced that this particular Olympic model will fly far beyond its third edition.

Yes, I can see a sort of logic in thinking that, if a Summer Youth Olympic Games is good for the Movement (and the world), then a winter version is called for as well.

But in today's increasingly crowded international sporting calendar, I just don't think that the Winter Olympics is a strong enough global franchise to warrant such a junior spin-off.

The Sochi Games, let's face it, though a huge deal for Russia, would not be regarded by most people around the world as the biggest sports event of next year.

The Summer Youth Games have been taking the Olympics into new areas of the world ©Getty ImagesThe Summer Youth Games have been taking the Olympics into new areas of the world ©Getty Images


The Summer Youth Games seems to be working in part because it is taking the Olympics into new areas.

At a time when money is scarce, and the commitment of time and resources needed to stage a Summer Olympics has become so colossal that few dare contemplate it, the Youth Olympics offers an opportunity for cities to bask in the Olympic brand's unique aura at far lower cost.

Hosting a Winter YOG could in theory offer cities the same sort of benefit.

However, the geographic bounds of the Winter Games are much more tightly constrained than their summer counterpart because of the climatic conditions required for snow and ice sports to take place.

And in these regions of the world, the depth of demand for a mini Winter Games seems disappointingly modest.

The inaugural Winter YOG in 2012 did at least attract four bidders - Harbin, China; Kuopio, Finland; Lillehammer, Norway and Innsbruck, Austria, the eventual winner.

But the first issue of a new magazine will often sell out.

Harbin, Kuopio, Lillehammer and Innsbruck - the eventual winner - bid to host the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games ©Getty ImagesHarbin, Kuopio, Lillehammer and Innsbruck - the eventual winner - bid to host the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games ©Getty Images


For 2016, Lillehammer was the only bidder, never a comfortable position for an event owner.

And with both confirmed Winter YOG hosts so far having hosted past editions of the Winter Olympics, the junior event can hardly be said to be planting the Olympic Flag on virgin territory.

The 2020 race will at least be contested by two cities which have not hosted an Olympic Games before.

But a competition between the city in which the IOC is headquartered - Lausanne - and a place - Brașov - that Wikipedia tells me is the seventh most populous city in Romania (albeit one that used to be called Stalin City) hardly bespeaks a world straining at the leash to put its stamp on this new, bite-sized Olympic product.

In a conference call he gave while on the stump ahead of his election as IOC President, Thomas Bach suggested incorporating new forms of sport and physical activity that were fashionable among, and attractive to, young people into the Youth Olympics.

If what he has in mind is to use the Youth Games more systematically as a testing-ground for new formats and sports that might eventually progress to the Olympic Games proper, this seems an excellent idea that should work well in the context of the Summer Games.

Thomas Bach has suggested incorporating new forms of sport and physical activity into the Youth Olympics to make it more attractive ©Getty ImagesThomas Bach has suggested incorporating new forms of sport and physical activity into the Youth Olympics to make it more attractive ©Getty Images


The Winter Games, though, has already been experimenting with new events, with the aim, presumably, of maintaining its relevance and boosting its appeal.

In the case of snowboard cross, which made its Winter Olympic debut in 2006, moreover, the Movement has had a notable success.

I am not sure anyone would have gained anything had that sport been earmarked for a dry run or two at the Winter YOG before winning approval to progress to the big stage.

What it boils down to, in my view, is this: the Olympic Movement still has work to do to reform the Winter Games; any distraction, be it Winter YOG or anything else, risks diluting this focus.

The Winter Olympics can never be a truly global event while it is confined to snow and ice sports.

Some indoor sports, such as volleyball, are perfectly placed to feature in the Winter Olympics ©Getty ImagesSome indoor sports, such as volleyball, are perfectly placed to feature in the Winter Olympics ©Getty Images


As I have argued in the past, the Winter Games would be a far more compelling proposition for far more people in a wider range of countries if it expanded its scope to some of the indoor sports that currently take up space on the outsized Summer Olympic programme.

Volleyball and handball seem naturals to make the switch, especially with beach volleyball able to provide that sport with a continued summer presence.

And if squash and netball are worth Olympic places, far better to use them to increase the Winter Games' appeal than try to shoehorn them into the Summer programme.

The arrival of a new leader should, one hopes, provide a little space for people in positions of influence to reflect on such heretical proposals.

In the meantime, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Winter YOG's chapter in the book of Olympic history is likely to be a short one.

David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. To follow him on Twitter click here.