Michael Pavitt

Exactly one month ago the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games drew to a close, with the eyes of the Olympic world quickly shifting elsewhere.

The focus has been drawn to the ongoing saga at the World Anti-Doping Agency, the perceived crisis in securing a host for the 2026 Winter Olympics and the defence of the "European Sports Model".

For the vast majority of people, this year's Youth Olympic Games will have provided a welcome couple of weeks of sporting competition and a potential glimpse at who might emerge as elite athletes in the coming years.

Buenos Aires is hoping the Games could provide some lasting benefits which go beyond the couple of weeks of sporting action.

Speaking a couple of weeks on from the Games, Buenos Aires City’s Eleonara Bauer expresses that the Argentine capital had three main dimensions it examined when hoping to secure a positive legacy from the event.

The first focused on the development around Buenos Aries, with the Games providing facilities which will be used by federations going forwards. The Olympic Village, which was sold prior to the Games, will be transformed into a "new neighbourhood". While the apartments are not considered social housing, the price is considered affordable.

Given the location of both the Park and the Olympic Village in the south of the city, considered a less developed part of the Argentine capital, it is hoped the investment will provide an important impetus going forwards.

Sports development, perhaps unsurprisingly, was considered as another key area for the city and Organising Committee. A four-year plan was put in place to aid the development of young athletes who may have participated in the Games, while there was also a view to ensuring they achieve success following the Youth Olympics.

The vast majority of host nations enjoy a boost from staging Games in terms of their medal tally and judging the hauls from countries at the Youth Olympics is also a tricky, if not a pointless, proposition. However, Argentina's sixth-placed finish on the medals table with a total of 11 gold, six silver and nine bronze is considered a sign the project is working.

One of the gold medals earned came in the sport of beach handball, with Argentina's women's team emerging as the victors.

Beach handball is said to have enjoyed a spike in popularity following Argentina's Youth Olympic gold medal ©Getty Images
Beach handball is said to have enjoyed a spike in popularity following Argentina's Youth Olympic gold medal ©Getty Images

As well as providing a buzz during the Games, the gold medal could also be seen as a link between the second and third aims of the city. Sporting development energising the public.

"After the Games, our federation received 800 phone calls asking where they can do beach handball," Bauer says.

"We are a country of soccer, rugby and women's hockey.

"Climbing, BMX and skateboarding were also new activities that people explored and we are finding new ways of engagement in these areas."

For Bauer, who serves as the active city lead officer in Buenos Aires, this aspect of the Games was crucial. Rather than focusing solely on the elite or, in the Youth Olympics' case, developing stars, the engagement of the public as a whole was an important step.

She points to large groups of people who drop out of taking part in sport, whether that is young people who are unable to reach the top level, senior citizens or women.

A part of the city's strategy for the Games was ensuring that the public could reengage with sports, Bauer says. The parks concept was seen as a way of achieving this, with wristbands allowing access to venues rather than tickets being bought for particular events.

As queues for the most in-demand competitions, such as swimming and hockey developed, the opportunities for people, particularly children, to go elsewhere to either watch other sports or take part in initiations was seen as a major positive. As well as beach handball, sports like fencing were promoted to a new audience.

It is hoped engagement with new sports and activities could help to provide a catalyst to make the population of the city more active going forwards.

The Global Active Cities programme has been aimed at engaging all members of the public, not just young people ©Active Well Being Initiative
The Global Active Cities programme has been aimed at engaging all members of the public, not just young people ©Active Well Being Initiative

"We drove our strategy more with a public health view, it was a way of showing part of the return on investment of the Games," Bauer says.

"It is not about federations, it is about speeding up the process of engaging all citizens from youth.

"We are [the world] failing. If you are not at a certain level with federations you quit and go outside [the system]. We are reconnecting that group of citizens, but we also look to reconnect women and senior people. Among senior people in Buenos Aires there are more women than men."

Energising youth was among the main aspects of the programme, particularly among deprived areas of the city. Bauer highlights several initiatives that were put in place as part of Buenos Aires' involvement in the Active Cities programme, a project designed to help citizens and communities to be more active and healthy, with encouragement given to people to improve their lifestyle choices.

Among the efforts was to provide sporting equipment to people from the rougher areas of the city. When loaning the equipment, those borrowing it were able to have health checks. For instance, a quick blood test would provide a snapshot of whether they could be at risk of a condition like diabetes. Advice could then be provided.

Whereas some clubs might prove more reluctant or not be within the vicinity of more deprived areas, the provision of equipment is aimed at encouraging physical activity among those living in difficult circumstances. Bauer shows several photos of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach playing hockey with children in one of these poorer areas of the city, with equipment provided as part of the programme.

It is hoped the efforts will go some way towards halting the rise of non-communicable diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, which have increased as a result of physical inactivity, poor diet and obesity. This has been linked to the increasingly urban environment of cities.

Drop-in stations have provided advice and quick medical checks, such as blood tests ©Active Well Being Initiative
Drop-in stations have provided advice and quick medical checks, such as blood tests ©Active Well Being Initiative

"A lot of this was in the context of something we are worried about, the overweight levels of children," Bauer says. "Out of every four kids 10 are overweight, some but not all of them are obese.

"This is something a Government won't change, a family won't change, sport clubs won't change, schools won't change. You have to work it out as an ecosystem.

"The beauty of this project is leading, but saying we will not change this situation alone. It should be a teamwork solution. We have to have everyone sitting around the table, with a common message.

"It is not about saying you have to go to a nutrition once a week, it is a culture change. You can achieve this by either restriction or promotion. When you talk about a successful culture change it is more about the promotion rather than the restriction. Laws, such as those involving sugar, are part of the story, but you have to create a healthy ecosystem."

Buenos Aires was named as one of the "Global Active Cities" in an award ceremony held prior to the Youth Olympics. The Argentine capital was joined by 2016 Winter Youth Olympics hosts Lillehammer, Hamburg in Germany, Liverpool in the United Kingdom, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Richmond in Canada.

The programme uses performance indicators to see how many people are doing sport and the level of healthy eating among children.

Buenos Aires will hope the Youth Olympic Games improves on the base figures the city had prior to the Games. Rather than a couple of weeks of sporting action, the engagement of people could prove an important and unsung legacy. Its success though will depend on whether people keep coming back to do physical activities again and again.