Liam Morgan

Next month marks the 10-year anniversary of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.

Question marks over the future of the Youth Olympics, the brainchild of former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, have lingered ever since and some believe have grown following the postponement of Dakar 2022 by four years.

The place of the Games in a cluttered and congested international sports calendar has been a regular point of discussion over the past decade, both on these pages and in the corridors at the IOC.

Arguments the event should be scrapped or replaced with a different concept have seemingly been countered by the two most recent editions – the summer Games in Buenos Aires in 2018 and this year's winter event in Lausanne, which even the most ardent Olympic opponents would struggle to criticise too heavily.

But the IOC, and sport in general, is facing up to an unknown and uncertain post-pandemic reality, one which it is sensible to consider may scupper the Youth Games and other events in the Olympic Movement.

One of my colleagues with far greater expertise than I has predicted a grim financial future for sport organisations, clubs and leagues across the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The IOC, even with its considerable reserves, is not immune from this, a fact acknowledged by the top brass at the organisation.

With that in mind, the IOC will almost certainly be perusing over its expenditure with a fine-tooth comb in the coming months and looking where it could potentially cut costs.

Singapore hosted the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010 ©Getty Images
Singapore hosted the first Youth Olympic Games in 2010 ©Getty Images

The financial impact of COVID-19 has also already hit the IOC, which claims the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will cost it around $800 million (£635 million/€700 million).

The Youth Olympics, despite being an event designed for 14 to 18-year-olds, is not cheap, even if more recent editions have proved more cost-efficient than others.

For example, the price-tag of the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, although largely the fault of local organisers, remains a stick with which to beat the Games as a concept still to this day.

According to its 2018 annual report, the IOC contributed $64 million (£51 million/€56 million) to the hosting of that year's Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires – a not inconsequential sum which looks expensive when viewed through the lens of the current global health crisis.

IOC President Thomas Bach has also publicly called for the Olympic Movement to look into what he described as a "proliferation of sports events", prompting all sorts of speculation as to what specific events he was referring to.

"What is clear…is that probably none of us will be able to sustain every single initiative or event that we were planning before this crisis hit," Bach wrote in an open letter on the COVID-19 pandemic in April.

"We will all need to take a close look at the scope of some of our activities and make the necessary adjustments to the new realities."

Dakar 2022 was awarded the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, but the event has now been postponed ©Getty Images
Dakar 2022 was awarded the Youth Olympic Games in 2018, but the event has now been postponed ©Getty Images

It is not inconceivable that events like the Youth Olympics, which some senior IOC members have never warmed to, could be on the chopping block, particularly if the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics are cancelled altogether.

Postponing Dakar 2022 may not be the first step towards such an eventuality, but the ease at which the IOC kicked the Youth Olympics into the long grass has nonetheless raised a few eyebrows.

Preparations for the first Olympic event to be held in Africa have been far from smooth. In January, the Senegalese Government had still not released the funding and an Organising Committee had not been established, prompting a stern warning from IOC Coordination Commission chairperson Kirsty Coventry at the Session in Lausanne.

Sceptics may feel the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic on sport has been used as a convenient way out for Dakar 2022, which had not exactly made a flying start. There is the sense local organisers could do with the extra time.

The decision to postpone means the next Youth Olympics will not be held until Gangwon Province stages the winter edition in 2024. By the time the 2026 event takes place, it will have been eight years since the last Summer Youth Olympics.  

Bach said those countries which had expressed varying degrees of interest in the 2026 summer version – Colombia, Thailand, India and Russia – had not been informed of the postponement but would be "in a privileged position" for 2030.

The IOC, of course, remains buoyant about the Youth Games, with executive director for the Olympic Games Christophe Dubi telling insidethegames earlier this month that the event was here to stay.

Lausanne 2020 was considered a success by the IOC and organisers ©Getty Images
Lausanne 2020 was considered a success by the IOC and organisers ©Getty Images

"We want [the Youth Games] to go from strength to strength," Dubi said. "We had a vision at the time for the creation of the Youth Games and this vision is unfolding.

"Each and every edition enforces the idea that you can organise these Games in different and smaller regions. We learn, we expose youth to the magic of the Games and we create new generations of athletes.

"They also provide invaluable experience for young athletes from all standpoints. All of these aspects were part of the vision for the Youth Games and this is what we will continue to do."

Asked whether there was room for the Youth Olympics in a sports calendar, the congested nature of which Bach referred to in his letter, Dubi added: "Yes, because what we are doing here is an investment in the future of the Olympics, the future of the athletes and the future of the youth of the world.

"There is space for all of this. This is why we organise the Youth Olympics and have proudly invested in the Youth Olympic Games."

For the moment, the Games have been pushed firmly onto the backburner, and it remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 crisis prevents the IOC from celebrating another 10-year milestone of the Youth Olympic Games.