Liam Morgan ©ITG

Thomas Bach has been forced to deal with several considerable challenges during his tenure as President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Russian doping, corruption and a dearth of candidate cities for the Olympic Games, to name but three, have dominated his in-tray since his election at the IOC Session here in 2013.

Although not quite to the same extent, an event in the Argentinian capital this month has also given Bach a headache or two.

The Youth Olympic Games (YOG), the brainchild of Bach's predecessor Jacques Rogge, have come under intense scrutiny in recent years over their relevance, cost and overall positioning in the Olympic Movement.

Discussions were even held not so long ago about whether the event had a future at all and it came perilously close to being scrapped entirely.

The success of the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer seemed to briefly ease such fears and a series of recommendations - largely made up of the usual platitudes accompanied by IOC jargon - to develop the Games were then approved nearly six months later at the Session in Rio de Janeiro.

But the steps agreed by the IOC do not seem to have cemented the future of an event Rogge once claimed would become "as much an indispensable fixture of the Olympic calendar as its grown-up brothers".

At a time where the IOC is desperately attempting to cut costs from all aspects of bidding for and hosting the Summer and Winter Games, it is valid to question whether the Youth Olympics are worth it and if the event will achieve the aims it set out to do.

IOC doyen Richard Pound has led the opposition to the Youth Olympics from the start and has continually voiced his doubt that the Games were "getting couch potatoes off the couch" as Bach had promised they would.

The Canadian, the IOC's longest-serving member, believes they are yet to reap the rewards of the recommendations made two years ago.

"It was clear that the original model was unsatisfactory and eventually a Commission was formed to try to create a new paradigm," he said. "We have yet to see whether that will be sustainable.

"I was originally opposed to the YOG because the financial information provided had been unreliable, there had been no consultation with other organisations concerned with sedentary lifestyles and juvenile diabetes - the supposed reasons for creating the YOG - regarding the proper role for the IOC in that sector, there was no plan for getting couch potatoes off their couches and, to be eligible, one had already to be engaged with organised sport."

The Youth Olympic Games are underway in Buenos Aires ©Getty Images
The Youth Olympic Games are underway in Buenos Aires ©Getty Images

Pound's last point is an interesting one. The IOC has struggled to strike a balance between enticing new athletes and simply providing a platform where competitors tipped for greatness and who might have already enjoyed success on the international stage can further their careers. Do those type of athletes really need it?

This was a central theme in suggestions the Youth Olympics could be axed entirely. One possible solution was to turn it into a culture-based, rather than multi-sport, event but the decision was taken to keep its current format.

"What has been clarified is that it is an event of the highest athletic performance for young elite athletes," Antoine Goetschy, IOC associate director for the Youth Olympic Games, said.

"To achieve that, the objective is to have the best athletes of that age group for the different events to attend. We need to attract these young athletes.

"It is a sports festival in addition to being a high-level of athletic performance event. It is the new way to deliver a competition; to turn it into a festival to be attractive to young people as spectators and as participants.

"It is a flexible event and is not carved into stone. At the same time, if you want to have a high level of athletic performance you need to have some elements which will need to be maintained."

IOC vice-president Uğur Erdener agrees. "I support that the YOG remains a multi-sport event as the main idea is to prepare talented young athletes for future Olympics," he said.

"In that sense, YOG proves to be a very good platform for the National Olympic Committees and their young potential."

It is difficult to deny the pathway the Youth Olympics can provide for athletes. At Rio 2016, for example, 80 medals were won in total - 19 gold, 33 silver and 28 bronze - by competitors who had previously represented their country at the YOG.

That trend continued at Pyeongchang 2018, where 22 athletes who competed at Innsbruck 2012 and Lillehammer 2016 claimed 28 medals in all.

But critics and sceptics will still cast doubt on whether the ends justify the means. Concerns over the financial strain the event puts on the IOC and host cities came to the fore post-Nanjing 2014, described by those who were there as a mini-Olympics and where costs were thought to have spiralled, while the Buenos Aires 2018 bill is likely to come in around the $200 million (£152 million/€173 million) mark.

"I am all for getting youth involved in physical activity, but am more concerned with getting additional active participants, not just those already in the sports system," said Pound.

"Otherwise the risk is that some very nice young people will simply enjoy a really, really, expensive summer or winter camp."

Others have also questioned whether the YOG drains too much of the IOC's resources, while some suggest the money could be better spent elsewhere, especially for the host cities. This is also true for Argentina itself, which is one of several South American countries to have felt the financial pinch over the years.

"Personally I don't share the idea related to this approach," said Erdener.

"It is the IOC's mission to bring Olympism to the youth. If we agree that YOG is a necessity in that direction for young generations, we have to arrange and allocate some financial support for this organisation. I also must point out that it is not a big reserve in the general income of the IOC.

"After changing the bid procedure at the Rio Session, we reduced most of the bid city expenses.

"In addition to that, with the recent YOG review, the new norm is that the costs of hosting a YOG will be shared by the IOC and the host city, while the travel costs of athletes and coaches are paid by the IOC.

"The revised YOG model includes use of existing infrastructure and affordable temporary fields of play with more flexibility and adaptation to the local context.

"Having said that, I think the reduced money spent can be regarded as an 'investment' rather than a 'cost' and justified.

"The Youth Olympics are now not an expensive but a low-cost event compared to other multi-sport events."

Young athletes at the Youth Olympic Games are already in the sporting system ©Getty Images
Young athletes at the Youth Olympic Games are already in the sporting system ©Getty Images

In fairness to the IOC, the YOG does provide discernible benefits. The event can prove to be a testing ground for elements not previously seen at an Olympics, such as Buenos Aires 2018 holding their Opening Ceremony last night in an urban setting rather than a traditional, large-scale stadium.

Buenos Aires 2018 is also the first Olympic event where the same number of women and men will compete, reaching the hallowed gender equality the IOC are desperate to achieve.

Lausanne 2020, hosts of the next Winter Youth Olympics, are also "innovating" - a familiar buzzword connected with each YOG - by introducing a two-wave approach when it comes to the arrival of athletes.

This rotational system will see athletes competing in events which take place in the first half of the Games arriving before and attending the Opening Ceremony, before they depart for home once their competition has finished.

The second "wave" of competitors will then descend on the Olympic Capital to participate in the second half and will attend the Closing Ceremony.

IOC officials also often describe the YOG as a "laboratory", where International Federations trial new events and disciplines with a view to possible elevation to the programme at the main Games.

Sport climbing and skateboarding, for example, both featured at Nanjing 2014 and will make their Olympic debuts at Tokyo 2020. This is also the case for the Winter YOG, particularly for the various skiing disciplines.

"From an International Ski Federation perspective, the competition programme has shown itself to be a useful platform to introduce competition formats into the Olympic environment," FIS secretary general Sarah Lewis said.

"For example, freestyle ski big air will join snowboard in Lausanne 2020, before making its Olympic debut in Beijing 2022.

"Similarly the Alpine skiing team parallel event and the ski jumping mixed team competition were both on the YOG programme since the first edition in Innsbruck 2012, while the Alpine team event has already been successfully included in Pyeongchang 2018 and the ski jumping mixed team event added to the programme for Beijing 2022."

That may be true, but the Winter version has unquestionably been the most vulnerable of the two events when it comes to discussions surrounding the YOG's future.

For a start, the Winter Olympics themselves struggle to garner the same attention and interest as the summer equivalent and that is always going to get worse when you remove the allure of senior-level competition.

The Winter YOG got off to a promising start as the inaugural edition in 2012 attracted four bidders in a contest eventually won by Innsbruck. But, as they say, the first issue of a new magazine will often sell-out.

Four years later, Lillehammer was the only candidate, although that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the 2016 Games were exactly what the IOC wanted; a relatively cheap, low-cost event held in a city with winter sports heritage and where there wasn't the need to build expensive, lavish new facilities.

It is also well-known that venues for the Winter Games, with their technical complexities and narrower target market, are more difficult to maintain, are more expensive and can rarely be justified from a legacy standpoint. Cities constructing such facilities for the YOG version therefore seems rather futile.

With that in mind, the only way the Winter YOG can survive is if the Lillehammer 2016 model is used, although Goetschy says there are ways cities can get around their lack of winter sport venues if they want to stage the Games.

"The concept of using existing facilities is at the core of the revised version," he said. "There are options like we have taken in Lausanne, where the sliding events are in St Moritz, where speed skating will take place on a natural lake - that was a good option.

"We can investigate the different options but building or paying for an expensive temporary solution will not be contemplated.

"For the YOG, if a city is interested which doesn't have the facilities, then they can propose a revised sports programme. It is accepted now that the sports programme can be adapted to the city.

"The Winter YOG is closer to the model that we have tried to implement for the summer.

"Maybe the winter version is more what we would like to have in the long term."

The Winter Youth Olympic Games face their own challenges ©Getty Images
The Winter Youth Olympic Games face their own challenges ©Getty Images

Beyond Lausanne 2020, the immediate future of the YOG lies in Africa after the IOC targeted the continent to host the 2022 summer edition, due to be held in Senegal.

It was a move which could be considered brave as the IOC are taking a product which has an uncertain fate into uncharted territory; Africa has never hosted any edition of the Olympic Games and events held there over the last few years have been gripped by organisational chaos, disputes and withdrawals of star names.

The 2015 African Games in Brazzaville were shunned by a host of top athletes and several sports on the programme lost their right to serve as Olympic qualifiers following a row over the ownership of the Games.

The African Athletics Championships in Nigeria in August were deemed among the worst in recent memory as athletes were left stranded at airports when making their journeys to Asaba, while Durban was stripped of the 2022 Commonwealth Games last year after the city failed to meet a series of financial deadlines.

This is not to tar all of Africa with the same brush; it is more to highlight the issues the continent faces when staging major events, some of which are through no fault of their own.

"It is clear that organising an event of the complexity of a multi-sport Games is always a challenge anywhere you go, and we know there are risks," Goetschy said.

"We think the opportunities are greater than the risks but it is not going to be easy, for the IOC, for the International Federations and for the NOCs. Because we are the Olympic Movement, and with everybody’s support, it is very clear that the event will be a success.

"Everyone will have to contribute and participate in the preparation and delivery, and at the same time adapting to the reality of the continent."