GUATEMALA CITY – Olympic leaders voted Thursday to create a Youth Olympics meant to drag youngsters from computer screens and onto the playing fields. The first is planned for 2010 for 3,500 athletes, ages 14-18.
It would be the first major global sports festival created by the International Olympic Committee since the advent of the Winter Games in 1924. The program was approved unanimously by a show of hands.
IOC president Jacques Rogge said the games would inspire young people around the world to take up sports.
Details remained to be worked out, but the first event would take place during the northern hemisphere's summer. And with about a third of the 10,000 that compete during the regular Olympics, it would be possible for smaller countries to host the competition, Rogge said.
The initial youth winter games in 2012 would be open to about 1,000 athletes.
The site for the 2010 games will be chosen in February. Rogge said at least six countries already had expressed interest. The 2012 site will be picked by January 2009.
It wasn't clear if the games would be held according to an earlier proposal for youths from around the world to participate without flags or national uniforms — an idea backed by Britain's Princess Anne. Several IOC members questioned that plan on Thursday and Rogge indicated the question was open.
Without national identity, "the media may lose interest and the governments may lose interest and the athletes themselves may lose interest," said Alex Gilady of Israel.
Rogge said all Olympic sports would be represented, but with fewer events. He also said some new, youth-oriented sports might be introduced.
To hold down costs, "We will insist with the organizing committees that no new infrastructure be built."
Several IOC members said they were worried about the cost of the games.
"There will be a lot of overhead here," warned Dick Pound of Canada, who questioned whether the games would "get one more person" attracted to organized sport.
Rogge said the IOC could afford the cost, which he estimated at US$30 million (euro22 million) for the summer version and US$15 million-US$20 million (euro11 million-euro15 million) for the winter.
The modern Olympics, born with the 1896 Games, is associated with many other sports competitions, notably the Paralympic Games that are held in conjunction with the Olympics.
Several IOC members also questioned whether the new competition would clash with existing events such as the World University Games, but Rogge offered no immediate response.
The intial youth event also would be held in the same year as soccer's World Cup.
Still, most IOC members agreed it's worth a gamble.
"Let's try this one great thing, correct it as we go along," Gilady said.
And Patrick Hickey of Ireland noted that a European youth games — also started by Rogge — "have been a phenomenal success."
"You see young athletes before they get a big head, before they smell big money and get an agent, and before they begin doping," Hickey added.
Most important, Rogge aims to transform youths around the globe into athletes.
"Today we observe a widespread decline in physical activity and an increase in obesity" among youth, Rogge said, citing fewer physical activities in schools and the disappearance of open spaces in cities.
He also blamed the rise of the computer culture.
"One can speak of screen addiction," Rogge said. "Multimedia, with its elaborate graphics ... is sometimes more appealing than sport."