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IOC’s Christophe Dubi reflects on past, present, future of Youth Olympics

As the fourth Winter Youth Olympic Games continues in Gangwon, South Korea, IOC Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi discussed the vision of the Youth Olympics (also known as YOG), the future of the Games and more. This interview from Friday night (U.S. time)/Saturday (South Korea time) has been edited for length and clarity.

OlympicTalk: How have these Youth Winter Games stood out from past Games?

Dubi: First, in terms of legacy. To some extent, Innsbruck (the last Winter Youth Games in 2020) and Lillehammer (in 2016) were using part of the infrastructures from decades ago. Here, it is almost back-to-back (with the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics).

It really makes sense for a number of reasons. It could prolong the legacy, which started after 2018, and give a boost to some of the programs, especially when it comes to younger athlete development.

MORE: Youth Olympics Broadcast Schedule

We’ve seen that with the results of the Korean athletes, but also with a legacy program that dates back to 2004 called the Dream Program. It invites athletes from countries where they do not necessarily have the facilities. Fourteen of these athletes are participating here.

Second is the metaverse, which we are testing for the first time. Yes, it’s a first step. Yes, it’s addressed to youth. But still, we have created a virtual environment where you can experience the Games in the venues. It’s a good trial. It works.

Third is the collaboration between brands that we see everywhere. Here, they have really closely attached the K-pop culture, K-pop artists to these Games. Everywhere, every day, you have them present. When we are looking at the (engagement) numbers, especially from a digital standpoint, it is extremely strong, surpassing anything before in the Youth Olympics.

OlympicTalk: I want your take on something that the late former IOC President Jacques Rogge said when they first announced the Youth Olympic Games in 2007 — “These Youth Olympic Games should not be seen as mini-Olympic Games. ... It will be a preparation for the athletes for future Olympic Games, but with an education part that is different.”

Seventeen years later, would you change or add anything to that when you’re talking about the mission of the Youth Olympic Games now?

Dubi: Jacques, from where you see us today, please be proud because those missions are exactly what the Youth Games have been delivering all the time.

Very important strategic elements were assigned to YOG at the time, which is a pathway for athletes towards the next step of their career, whether it is as champions or whether it is as sports administrators or simply an ambassador of the Olympic Movement. This over time has proven to be exactly correct.

If you look at the numbers from the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, 341 athletes had competed in the YOG before.

The international sports federations all view the Youth Games as one of the milestones towards the next stages in the development pathway of their athletes.

The education program that he mentioned, I witnessed firsthand the success of these programs here where all athletes have gone through Athlete365 tents, and it’s buzzing.

Not only the athletes, but their entourage. There is a full booth dedicated to how you manage your own media accounts, how you respond to the pressure of being constantly on social media, because compared to 15 years ago when we started with the Youth Games, the world has changed. Not only are you an athlete, but you are virtually a brand on your own and you have to constantly be out there. It is additional pressure. How do you manage that?

We will bring some of this material to Paris because what works for the younger athletes works as well for the Olympians.

One last thing that remains extremely valid today is the values, the values of being one community. Everybody is welcome, no discrimination, no race, no religion, the international community as one. This is the most powerful legacy we can leave to these athletes.

OlympicTalk: Two new features that make their Olympic debuts in Paris — an Opening Ceremony outside of a stadium and the sport of breaking — have already been done at the Youth Olympics. What was learned from the Youth Games that will be helpful to organizers in Paris come this summer?

Dubi: When it comes to the Opening Ceremony, it’s that it is doable. (Editor’s Note: In 2018, the Youth Olympic Opening Ceremony was held on the streets of Buenos Aires with more than 200,000 spectators.)

No matter where you are, in an urban setting, it takes a thorough preparation, including with respect to safety and security, I still remember what was done in Buenos Aires for it to be a party that everybody could enjoy.

Once we did that, it gave appetite for the next organizers. Paris, which always wanted to get an angle on a number of things, they felt, OK, this is now doable.

Paris wanted confirmation that breaking would be successful because you only have a limited number of cards that you can play as an organizer to add into your own program. (Editor’s Note: the Olympic Charter calls for a cap of about 10,500 athletes at one Games.)

Undeniably, with the pick up we had for breaking (in Buenos Aires in 2018), Paris said, OK, no doubt we have to have breaking.

OlympicTalk: Looking ahead to the next Youth Olympics in Dakar, Senegal, in 2026, obviously they will be historic as the first Games to be held in Africa. How are preparations going, and are there any current challenges?

Dubi: When you are two and a half years to any event (the 2026 Games will be in November), there is a lot to do because this is when you move from the big ideas, the strategic planning, the identification of resources.

This is where you move to your next stage of detail, which is operational planning. That’s very heavy. They have sent a delegation from Dakar (to Gangwon) to learn what it takes to deliver. Many of them are exposed for the first time to the YOG. We had very productive meetings. We have no specific challenges at this point in time.

The one thing, though, that they also have to do because of the market we are in at Dakar is to identify what will have to be sourced from outside the country. Fortunately, in the Olympic Movement we have a tremendous amount of solidarity. We have already identified from different countries assistance that will come in the form of material and services. Everybody is all hands on deck.

OlympicTalk: Where do things stand on the host selection for the Youth Olympics in 2028 (winter) and 2030 (summer)? Has the IOC entered into any targeted dialogue with anybody, and if so, can you name any specific regions or cities in the running?

Dubi: We have the luxury of having many interested parties for the summer edition and a substantial number for winter as well, especially after the success of Gangwon here.

I’ve had the question many times about the timing (of not yet choosing the next winter host). Simply because it’s not needed. We’re going strategically with Winter Games and Winter YOGs in regions that have all the facilities and the expertise because they’ve done it before.

Only the Italians have declared publicly their interest, but we have other parties that would like to join. We have no specific timing, but if you bounce back on what I said before regarding Dakar, there is a sense that you cannot wait until too close because, simply, a number of critical actions need to be taken, let’s say on the three years mark, which gives you a sense of where our head is at present.

OlympicTalk: With breaking debuting at the Youth Olympics and then being added to the Olympics, do you see any possibilities for an event to debut at the Winter Youth Games and then be added to the Winter Olympics, such as 3-on-3 hockey?

Dubi: First, ski mountaineering made its debut in Lausanne (at the 2020 Youth Olympics) and will be in Milano-Cortina.

Three-on-three hockey is in the Youth Games for a second time. It proves to be very successful, especially as a development discipline.

The International Ice Hockey Federation, in a meeting we had recently, is really pushing forward at the junior level with an ambition, at some point, to make it a more established adult discipline as well. No specific time frame, but the investment in the YOG and the sign it has given that it matters for the ice hockey federation, but also for the organizers because it is truly successful, gives appetite for more in the future. But again, no specific time frame.

We have no others at present that sit out there outside of a decision by the International Ski Federation to integrate freeriding in ski and snowboard within FIS. So let’s see the development of that discipline for the future because certainly it has a lot of appeal.

OlympicTalk: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Dubi: Past midway through Gangwon, it is very satisfying. It not only works well from an operational standpoint, but as well when you look at the crowds in the park. It’s a good problem to have as an organizer when you start to have to assemble all possible resources because you know your venues will be full.

In terms of media, internationally on anything digital we’re seeing some much bigger numbers in the past. So all in all, when you’re put in that position, you can only put on a smile.