From Athlete to Ambassador – a look beyond the YOG sports competitions

With young athletes from all over the world converging on Singapore for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (YOG), this is the perfect opportunity to educate them on global issues that affect each and every one of them.

As part of the Culture and Education Programme (CEP) at the YOG, the IOC’s partner organisations have been teaching participating athletes about important topics such as sustainability, doping, Olympism, HIV/AIDS, children's rights, fair play, first aid and humanitarian assistance.

“Sport is a powerful tool for reaching out to today’s youth on all continents and for educating them early on about healthy and responsible behaviours,” explained IOC President Jacques Rogge.

Interactive booths set up at the heart of the Youth Olympic Village have been giving athletes the chance to learn about these topics in a fun and engaging way, as well as discovering how they can contribute to resolving these issues. The content of the booths has been especially created for the YOG, targeting young people in a way that allows them to find out more about specific global issues while enjoying themselves at the same time.

©Ornella Lardaruccio / IOC

Run by a variety of international organisations, the booths have been proving very popular with athletes in the Village during the YOG.

“The reaction has been far more than we expected,” said Alexandra Karaiskou of the International Olympic Academy (IOA), whose booth enables athletes to learn more about the Olympic values and the history of the modern Olympic Games through a variety of games and interactive displays. “Every day we've been having around 150 visitors, which has been very satisfying.”

It is hoped that the athletes themselves will now play a key role in addressing these issues in their own communities.

©Ornella Lardaruccio / IOC

“These athletes may become the role models of the future,” explained Hartmut Stahl, Programme Officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which is using two “energy bicycles” to power light bulbs and a stereo system to educate athletes on the importance of energy efficiency. “Hopefully they'll take this message with them and spread it to a wider audience.”

Some of the issues covered at the booths address topics that could directly affect the participating athletes in the future, such as doping, healthy lifestyle and fair play.

“We're inviting young athletes to show the rest of the world that they want to be part of something that promotes clean sport and that they believe in it,” explained David Julien, education manager at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose booth features a video game that teaches athletes about making the right choices when faced with drugs. “This could be the first time some of these athletes have been exposed to doping control, so we want their first anti-doping experience to be something significant and something positive so they can actually have fun.”

In a dedicated “Health Zone” in the Athletes’ Village, the young athletes can also learn about nutritional aspects and implications of a Healthy Body Image through interactive games and educational videos.

©Ornella Lardaruccio / IOC

Former Olympian Tony Estanguet is one of several Athlete Role Models in Singapore, and he is keen to promote fair play in sport, which is highlighted by the International Committee of Fair Play (CIFP)  at its booth.

“I think fair play is extremely important when you do a sport,” said the Frenchman, a two-time Olympic champion in canoeing. “I experienced the real fair play spirit many times when I competed as a canoeist. When I won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, after the final it was not known immediately who the winner was. Nevertheless, we decided to celebrate the moments of victory together! The most important thing was to share our pleasure with each other. My aim is to talk about this kind of experiences and encourage young people to live in the spirit of fair play.”

Other issues addressed include global matters such as HIV&AIDS, voluntary blood donations, community-based first aid and children's rights. Young people account for 40 per cent of all new HIV infections globally, and so the UNAIDS (Joint Programme of the United Nations on HIV & AIDS) booth is concentrating on educating the athletes on HIV prevention through a variety of interactive games.

“There are still a lot of young people who get affected by HIV,” said Dawn Foderingham, UNAIDS regional programme adviser for Asia and the Pacific. “That's why 14-18 years old is the appropriate age group to deliver our messages. Our booth has been visited by about 100 people every day, and I am really pleasantly surprised at the response we got from athletes at the Village.”

©UNAIDS / Mario Balibago

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is on the spot in the Athletes’ Village to educate the young athletes about first aid techniques, disaster preparedness and the global need for blood donations. Dragana Volkanovska, a young badminton player from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, attended an IFRC session and now wants to spread the message that “donating blood is a moral responsibility of every human being”. She explained that “blood is very much needed, especially in times of disasters and conflict. Everybody has to give at least once in a lifetime.”

At the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) booth, meanwhile, athletes have been able to participate in a variety of activities and games, all of them focusing on the rights of children and the conditions required for them to reach their full capabilities. The games at the booth engage the youngsters to express their life stories, dreams and values in a fun and interactive way. For instance, many athletes have chosen to design their own t-shirts with slogans such as “You have the right as a girl to play sports” or “It is your turn to reach out to those in need”.

“This is a unique opportunity for young athletes to look beyond sports competitions and to get exposed to pressing global issues,” said Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace when touring the booths.

Mr Lemke also attended a special workshop and addressed the assembled athletes on the role they can play in these issues once the Games are finished. “Your experiences here will enable you to act as ambassadors when you return to your communities by sharing what you have learned and encouraging those around to be agents of change,” he said.

©Ornella Lardaruccio / IOC


Save your place now for the 7th World Conference on Sport, Education and Culture, which will be held in Durban, South Africa, from 5 to 7 December 2010

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