IOC President Jacques Rogge expects the Youth Olympics will overcome spiraling costs and the so-far subdued fan enthusiasm to evolve into one of the world’s premier sporting events.
The Youth Olympics, which open in Singapore on Saturday and run through August 26, will feature about 3,600 competitors aged 14 to 18 from 204 countries competing in the same 26 sports on the current Summer Olympics programme.
“Very soon, the Youth Olympic Games will become as much an indispensable fixture of the Olympic calendar as its grown-up brothers,” Rogge wrote in the days leading up to the inaugural event.
Cost estimates for the event have skyrocketed. The IOC initially projected in 2007 the Youth Games would cost $30 million to stage but by the time Singapore won its bid in 2008, the budget was up to $76 million. The government said in July it expects a final bill of $287 million.
The organising committee for the London 2012 Olympics has a budget of $3 billion. The overall construction and infrastructure budget for London 2012 is more than $14 billion.
For Singapore, the Youth Games are part of a strategy to diversify its economy toward tourism and services and away from manufacturing. The opening of two casino resorts built by Las Vegas Sands and Malaysia’s Genting earlier this year and the staging of the first annual night race for Formula One in 2008 have helped attract record tourist arrivals.
But ticket sales for the Youth Games have been sluggish despite a $8.9 million government publicity campaign featuring large billboards around the city that encouraged neighbourhoods to celebrate the Games.
In an online poll last month on Channel NewsAsia’s website aimed at getting a gauge of public interest, 88 percent of 6,400 respondents voted, ‘I’m not interested at all,’ in the Games.
“Singaporeans should spontaneously be generating more excitement for the Games,” Ang Swee Hoon, associate professor at the NUS Business School, said in a Straits Times editorial last month.
“We should feel in our hearts a sense of awe that our country has been chosen.”
The organisers, though, are confident of a successful games, expecting interest to pick up once competition starts. The football competition was to kick off o Thursday. The official opening ceremony will be Saturday, with medals awarded in triathlon as early as Sunday morning.
“The IOC president took a great risk to organise these Games and bet on its future,” IOC Olympic Games executive director Gilbert Felli told reporters earlier this week in Singapore.
“The world is going to look at it and see if it works or not.”
Australian athletes are already in Singapore, with many hoping that a stopover destination used by tens of thousands of their compatriots en route to Europe each year can be a springboard in their aspirations to compete at the London Olympics.
The Australian Olympic Committee has hosted national youth festivals in recent years, which have launched some Olympic careers.
“It’s not only a pathway for competition but an opportunity to help prepare young athletes for a lot of experiences,” AOC president John Coates told the Australian Associated Press. The Youth Olympics “are going to have a big element of education, learning about Olympic values, life skills and values and those sorts of things, an anti-doping message. We’re very interested to see how it all goes.”