Mike Rowbottom

When insidethegames reported earlier this month that the Bahrain Olympic Committee (BOC) was planning to hold a Baby Games in April featuring competitors aged between two and four, we described the impending event as "quirky".

In the circumstances, I think that was generous. I was inclined to choose a different word. "Crazy" sprang to mind. But variants soon crowded in - "Misguided. Stupid. Dreadful" were soon clamouring to be picked. Until the correct description turned up, and the audition was suddenly over. "Grotesque".


Only joking!

On the face of it, this announcement seems so absurd I am half expecting news that it was some kind of a Bahraini April Fool. After all, the Olympic Channel put out a spoof video of the Baby Olympics last April. But you can’t announce an April Fool in January. That’s not how it works – is it?

Well, setting aside the faint possibility that someone will shortly email or tweet me with a message along the lines of "Gotcha!", let’s just remind ourselves of the published salient points of the project.

The Bahrain Olympic Committee general secretary Abdulrahman Askar addresses a meeting on the Baby Games ©Getty Images
The Bahrain Olympic Committee general secretary Abdulrahman Askar addresses a meeting on the Baby Games ©Getty Images

According to a BOC press release, the self-styled Bahrain Baby Games will see competitors aged between two and four compete in five different activities.

These should be Playing with Toys, Running Off Some Energy, Stopping for a Drink, Having a Bit of a Sing-Song and then Going Home.

But are in fact athletics, gymnastics, football, basketball and weightlifting.

Athletics events will include a medley relay, "a hurdles toddle" and a 15 metre freestyle race.

Gymnastics will involve a freestyle moves contest with football free-kick and free throw basketball contests taking place alongside a weightlifting show.

The aim of the Games, apparently, is to develop sporting talent at a young age, with the additional desire, apparently, for the young competitors to be taught about Olympic principles and values.

According to the BOC, the goal is to "create an awareness among youngsters to practice sport".

Why stop at youngsters? What about the Embryo Games? Catch ‘em at the truly formative stage!!

Reportedly, kindergartens from all over the Gulf nation are now being expected to engage with the event at the Isa Sports Complex in Riffa.

A preparatory meeting involving kindergarten representatives has already been held which saw BOC general secretary Abdulrahman Askar, also the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports deputy general secretary, share his thoughts and suggestions on the event.

According to the release, a comprehensive plan to prepare for the first edition of the Games will now be drawn up.

Item 1 – Shelve your plan. Item 2 – see Item 1.

This is a bad idea in so many ways. Let’s just pile in.

Canada's Denis Shapovalov playing tennis with children in the AO BallPark activities zone at the Australian Open, where learning and enjoyment are higher on the agenda than the desire to smash the opposition...©Getty Images
Canada's Denis Shapovalov playing tennis with children in the AO BallPark activities zone at the Australian Open, where learning and enjoyment are higher on the agenda than the desire to smash the opposition...©Getty Images

Why do children between two and four need to be involved in competition with each other? God knows there is enough time for that when they grow up. In my experience children of that age bump along with each other like little molecules. They rarely work in tandem. They may try to grab a teddy before another child, but this is hardly a form of competition that fits into the Olympic framework.

Why - and indeed how? – should we try and persuade a two-year-old to do something faster than another two-year-old?

It’s mad.

By all means get children to be active, but let’s please not drag the dread dynamics of success and failure, winner and loser into the earliest and most innocent of ages.

When our eldest child was between two and three we took her to Tumble Tots. Once.

She hated it.


Only joking!

But there is a serious point. One of the reasons she hated it was she hated doing what the other children were doing, which was working their way dutifully around a circuit of apparatus-centred exercises.

When she found an exercise she enjoyed, she not unreasonably wished to stick around and do it again. Or again and again. Not allowed. As the rather humourless young woman in charge soon pointed out - rather humourlessly - she had to move on and keep up.

F*** moving on and keeping up.  Our children will get quite enough of that when they are grown up…

At two, at four, physical activity should be about enjoyment, with exercise a happy by-product. And that’s all.

As for nurturing ideas about Olympic ideals - this sounds about 100 per cent as if the BOC is attempting to ingratiate itself with the International Olympic Committee in some bizarre way. Ask yourself a simple question - how much of anything do you remember from when you were two? Or three?

And even if one or two early slivers of recollection remain from those times, ask yourself another question - what would you have made of "Olympic principles and values" when you were a toddler?

Don’t get me wrong. I attended many "non-competitive"junior school sports days – teams in lines, passing bean bags back to each other between their legs. Getting to the bit where some children were allowed to race against each other over 50 or so metres  was a merciful release for all concerned. But these were not four-year-olds, or even, God forbid, two-year-olds.

At the other end of the spectrum with regard to youthful sporting aspiration, there has been a flare of indignant reaction this week to a parents letter from a junior school on the subject of an impending event - "My World of Work Day".

Tweeted by Britain’s top 400m hurdler Jack Green, the letter invites children to arrive at school "dressed as themselves in a job they would like to do in the future".

But as Green points out, there is a Special note in the letter which reads as follows:

"We know that some children would love to be professional sports people or pop stars or famous YouTubers in the future.  These are great ambitions but so hard to achieve!  Because of this, on this occasion we’re not allowing these dress-up choices – instead, we’d like children to think of their 'Plan B' choices for future jobs.”

Signed, Dolores Umbridge…

As you might expect, as you might hope, this has gone down very ill among sporting folk.

Katharine Merry, the Olympic 400m bronze medallist and world number one now working as a media host and commentator, responded: "Encourage a Plan B, but don’t stifle dreams and aspirations…"

In another tweet, replying to the sprinter who anchored Britain to home gold in last year’s world 4x100m relay, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake: "Agree.. when I go into schools kids say ‘I’d love to be a sports star/pop singer/top lawyer etc but things like that won’t happen to me’ I say why? Give me 1 reason it can’t be you? It has to be somebody  *aimhigh *believe"

Blake had responded: "Reading this really upset me. Why kill a child’s dreams. School is a haven for the mind to run free. For the creative juices to flow in abundance, not for limitations to be put on the youths aspirations. Have fun set no limits there’s already. #Whynotthem"

Andy Turner, Britain’s former European 110m hurdles champion, reacted thus: "I would send my 3 kids to school wearing every bit of GB kit I had if they came home with this letter!"

There’s nothing wrong with ambition. There’s nothing wrong with youthful ambition. But there’s a time and a place for it, and two is the wrong time; and the Baby Games will never be the right place.