GENEVA – International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge hopes the inaugural Youth Olympic Games will teach young athletes to embrace fair play and reject doping, racism and corruption.
Rogge will declare the inaugural games open in Singapore on Saturday, fulfilling his longtime wish to create a global, multi-sport event for young athletes.
"It's a preparation for their later Olympic life," Rogge told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "In a very modern and human way we are going to tell them things that are important that they have to acquire. I think that is the added value of the Youth Olympic Games."
The event will feature about 3,600 athletes — aged 14-18 and representing more than 200 nations — competing in the same 26 sports on the current Summer Olympics program.
Rogge said the athletes' village — "what I call this magical atmosphere" — will double as a large classroom for the Aug. 14-26 games.
"I believe I can say we are experts in staging major sports events," Rogge said. "But we are entering now a new field, the education field. We might make some errors in the beginning, but we will learn from them."
The IOC has sought to learn from groups such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides movements, schools, child experts in the academic world and United Nations agencies.
Rogge hopes all this expertise will equip athletes for a lifetime of learning.
"We are not going to force-feed them with precooked information," he said. "Education is not only about the transfer of knowledge. It is about acquiring things, adopting them and executing."
Workshops will be held in the athletes' village to promote positive values and healthy lifestyles.
"Prevention of doping. Prevention of illegal betting because this is something that is coming up very much. Prevention of racism that unfortunately we see too much of in sporting fields," Rogge said. "And the Olympic values of pursuit of excellence and fair play."
Athletes also will receive advice on diet and warm-up and training techniques to prevent injuries.
"They also should not abandon their education," Rogge said. "There is a time when they will not be competing any more, at the age of 30, 35, and they need to reinsert into professional and social life."
Yelena Isinbayeva, the Russian pole vault world-record holder and Olympic champion, will be the star presence in Singapore, supported by athletes in 26 sports leading workshops.
"We want to work as much as possible in the language and the tone that young kids expect," said Rogge, who has seen his personal vision for the games realized in a world different from the one he imagined 21 years ago.
In October 1989, Rogge was elected president of the European Olympic committees with a mandate to create a youth event that would break through the barriers of Cold War-era communism.
"East and West were totally divided by the Iron Curtain. There were exchanges between athletes ... but only at adult level, there was nothing for the youth," Rogge said.
Three weeks later, by "an irony of history" he says, the Berlin Wall fell and the idea "was almost made redundant."
However, his native Belgium hosted a youth festival in 1991 and Russia staged an IOC-endorsed World Youth Games in 1998.
When Rogge was elected to lead the IOC in 2001, he was able to revive the project.
"Then I think the time was right to do it on a world and Olympic level," he said.
Days before the start of the games, Rogge said he has the same pre-competition nerves he had when competing in sailing at three straight Olympics from 1968-76.
"It's the same feeling, which is nice after such a long time," Rogge said. "You have a goal, you have worked hard to achieve it and you cannot wait for the competition to begin."