images-2011-12-David Owen_small1-160x166I don't know what Jacques Rogge got for Christmas.

But whatever Santa deposited in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President's stocking, I doubt it will have given him more satisfaction than the startlingly strong field that appears to be assembling for the race to stage the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

The week before Christmas, the British Olympic Association (BOA) took time out from preparing for London 2012 to declare its interest in bidding for the 2018 Youth Games.

If a British bidder does emerge, it is widely expected to be the 2014 Commonwealth Games host Glasgow.

But with around a month still to go before the January 30, 2012, deadline for interested cities' submissions, it is looking very much as though the Scottish city would face exceptionally tough competition if it does enter the race.

So far, four cities from a variety of regions have said they are likely to bid.

These are:

● Buenos Aires in Argentina, which may see the Youth Games in part as a way of keeping itself in the international sporting spotlight at a time when neighbour Brazil is gearing up to host both the FIFA World Cup (2014) and the Summer Olympics (2016).

● Monterrey in Mexico, which wanted to bid for the 2014 Youth Games, but lost out to national rival Guadalajara.

● Abuja in Nigeria, Glasgow's rival for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

● Kaspiysk in the Russian republic of Dagestan, which shares a border with turbulent Chechnya, but which is seen, rather like Sochi, as a zone of great tourism potential.

Even this impressive list may not be exhaustive, with other possible bid cities thought to include Medellín in Colombia and The Hague in the Netherlands.

Given that I thought I detected one or two signs of nerves in IOC Towers before the current acceptably strong list of six bidders for the Summer Olympics proper in 2020 was confirmed, it is worth posing the question – what is going on here?

The first point to make is that with this, the race for its third edition, the Summer Youth Games – which pits elite-level 14-18 year-old athletes against each other in competition – appears to have come of age (I am less convinced about the Winter Youth Games, but next month's inaugural event in Innsbruck, Austria may change this).

The second point is that the IOC owes the Asian port-city of Singapore a big debt of gratitude for the Summer Youth Games' gathering momentum: had Singapore not made such a success of the first Youth Games in 2010, the burst of interest we are currently witnessing might not have materialised.

I wonder too, though, whether the intensification of interest in staging the Youth Olympics isn't also, at one level, a veiled warning about just how few Governments can contemplate the colossal commitment of time and resources that staging a Summer Olympics now entails.

With swaths of the industrialised world still affected by economic stagnation and financial turbulence, and with international terrorists seemingly ever more ruthless and sophisticated, the costs of hosting the planet's biggest sporting extravaganza are subjected inevitably (and, it has to be said, properly) to the closest scrutiny.

And while these costs are all too apparent, the benefits of staging the Olympics are at times maddeningly elusive, or at least hard to quantify.

By opting instead for the Youth Games, cities can still bask – as I think they may be starting to appreciate – in the unique aura of the Olympic brand at much lower cost and probably with less risk that anything bad will happen.

Moreover, while Youth Olympic hosts will never get the same level of international media coverage as London 2012 and Rio 2016, they also have a shot at associating their own brands with a quality that I think the Olympics proper, in our sceptical age, have lost – probably for good.

This, in a word, is their innocence.

I don't know about you, but I find it hard to accept that many serious medal prospects at London 2012 would agree with Baron Pierre de Coubertin that the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.

I certainly don't think many of their Governments would.

When it comes to participants in the Youth Olympics, however, it is possible to imagine that the good baron's idealism retains more purchase.

Long may this remain the case.

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 and 2010 World Cup. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here.