European Young Olympic Ambassadors are running a series of activities at the Winter EYOF in Vuokatti ©ITG

More than 20 European Young Olympic Ambassadors (EYOA) are here at the Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Vuokatti, promoting their presence through a series of activities aimed at instilling Olympic values among athletes.

The EYOA Programme is under the auspices of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) Culture and Education Commission, and the delayed Festival in Vuokatti is its fourth edition,

The vice-chair of the EOC Culture and Education Commission Clea Papaellina described the EYOA initiative as "a value-based programme investing in the youth of Europe", and hopes the Winter EYOF will spur success for the Programme.

"We wish to continue this Programme and implement it in all upcoming EYOFs trying on each edition to make it better and take it to the next level," Papaellina commented.

The Winter EYOF, which is open to athletes aged 14 to 18, began on Sunday (March 20) and is due to run until Friday (March 25).

A total of 19 ambassadors were selected for the Programme's fourth edition, while five alumni ambassadors from the Summer edition of the EYOF in Baku in 2019 are also present in Vuokatti.

They are aiming to share their experience and knowhow with this year's cohort, and Papaellina insisted they are "an essential part of our Programme".

Ambassadors are running a series of activities at the Vuokatti Areena, aimed at encouraging collaboration and teamwork among athletes.

A chat with champions talk has also been held where athletes discuss their careers, with IOC Athletes' Commission chair and former ice hockey player Emma Terho of Finland, Beijing 2008 men's discus gold medallist Gerd Kanter of Estonia and Poland's two-time Olympic speed skating medallist Luiza Złotkowska among the guests.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) defines Olympic values as excellence, friendship and respect, and the EYOA Programme is centred on encouraging young athletes to adhere to these three principles.

Ambassadors explained to insidethegames that they have found their roles at the Festival to be very rewarding,

The Finnish chair of the IOC Athletes' Committee Emma Terho spoke at one of the EYOA's chat with champions talks in Vuokatti ©Getty Images
The Finnish chair of the IOC Athletes' Committee Emma Terho spoke at one of the EYOA's chat with champions talks in Vuokatti ©Getty Images

Lithuania's Paulius Martinkėnas - an alumnus from Baku 2019 - said the EYOA Programme was important in fostering friendships.

"For me this programme is very important because I think that sport is not about winning the medal, it's about the friendships you can make, about the excellence you can show, and the respect for your opponents," he commented.

"Sometimes winning a medal is not as important as winning a friend.

"You can win a friend, you can win memories that will stay with you all of your life, and that's why I think this programme is very important."

Fellow Baku 2019 alumni Alfred Värnik of Estonia said the Programme had helped him to "feel like I'm part of the sports world".

"It's just given me so many opportunities to travel to places I would probably never go to, meet with people I would never otherwise meet with and at the same time educate myself and learn something new about the Olympic Values almost on a daily basis from all the athletes and what sport means to them, so I think that it's just something wonderful," Värnik reflected.

"For this programme to exist and actually include a person from each country that takes part I think just gives such a good platform for people to get to know each other and learn about things that are important."

He stressed that returning to the EYOF as an alumni ambassador was a "rewarding feeling" which came from "seeing the enjoyment in the eyes of the ambassadors themselves".

Both Sintija Misina of Latvia and Slovakia's Kamil Pavlinský - ambassadors starting out at this event in Finland - emphasised the belief in the significance of their positions.

"On top of the travelling, learning and meeting new people in the network that this programme gives, and meeting people that are thinking the same values, looking into similar directions and just making new friends for life I would say [makes] this is a great opportunity," said Misina.

"Because at the end, how I look at life is connections and friendships that you make, the relationships with people, so I think that this programme gives a great opportunity to create that."

Pavlinský added: "We are here because we want to show the athletes that this not just sport, it is so much bigger, so we want to show them the Olympic Values, also friendship and we want to make new friends for them, so it's much bigger than sport."

The Winter EYOF in Vuokatti has twice been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly extended preparations for the EYOA Programme.

Work in the build-up to the Festival was conducted online, with this week's activities offering the first opportunity for the team to meet in person.

Misina admitted that it had been "a very long wait", while Pavlinský described it at as "amazing when we meet first time".

Värnik said that the cancellations and the dispersed nature of the Festival's events - with boys' ice hockey being held in December last year - had required "a lot of adaptability", including a "very successful" online programme.

The team is set to remain in place for the Summer edition of the EYOF in Banská Bystrica in Slovakia, which is scheduled for July 24 to 30, with Pavlinský conducting surveys throughout the ongoing Festival "in order to improve some activities" for the event in his home country.

With less than four months separating the two EYOFs, Misina said it was "exciting" to have Banská Bystrica on the horizon, while Värnik vowed that the group's work would be stronger in July from its experience in Vuokatti.

"I believe that this is almost like a test-run of a Festival because some of the COVID rules are still in place so we can't exactly do everything that we wanted to, but I think that Banská Bystrica's definitely going to be even better," he claimed.

"All we can do is that we do team-building, we can improve our team-work, [and see] which activities actually draw attention."