The Youth Olympic Games enable cities to move from an event-led approach, where the event is used as an ‘imposed’ stimulus, to an event-themed approach, where the event is used as a uniting theme for development and regeneration
Ian LoganIan Logan is the CEO of the Organising Committee of the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is an experienced organiser of major events and consults on various other Organising Committees in Switzerland.
While there is a growing number of youth-oriented sporting events out there, the Youth Olympic Games are arguably the most easily identifiable of them all. Why? Because they are the only ones that carry the most recognised sports brand in the world: the Olympic rings.
That said, like any other youth sporting event in the world, the Youth Olympic Games do not benefit from the same visibility, or generate the same global awareness as the Olympic Games or other top-tier ‘elite’ sporting events. And so, if one applies the traditional sport event business model - which considers visibility as a main means to attract sponsors and generate revenues - the Youth Olympic Games score relatively poorly.
So now the question: if the Youth Olympic Games generally do not generate a high level of visibility for host cities, why have cities such as Innsbruck, Lillehammer or Buenos Aires invested in them? And why do we, in Lausanne, think that the Youth Olympic Games are the ideal event to devote our resources to?
The reason is that the Youth Olympic Games can bring host cities three other, very important benefits which go beyond the main one, which is to promote the practice of sport for the younger generation. These are benefits that make a real difference to public and sports authorities worldwide. And I believe that these things combined make the Youth Olympic Games one of the most relevant events in the industry today.
New branding: they position the host as a cool new place to visit, study, work… and do sports
The Youth Olympic Games, with the extra help of the world-famous Olympic branding, can say important, new things to an important, new audience: the youth. And they can do that both nationally and internationally.
Today, cities compete globally for youth attention, trying to brand themselves as an attractive place for young people to visit, study in and work in, in a healthy, sport environment. The Youth Olympic Games, which by their very nature combine sport with education, are a unique tool to strengthen the position of a host city as the leading destination for future generations of tourists, students and workers. And they harness the fundamental theme of the practice of sport as a way to ensure healthier, stronger and more balanced future generations.
In our case, Switzerland is known for many things around the world – but perhaps not as much for sport, education or innovation. The Youth Olympic Games have acted as the ideal catalyst for further mobilisation of these areas. Academic, research and innovation institutions and start-ups are already heavily involved in designing our educational programme for athletes. Our sport programme will feature cutting-edge innovations and will showcase new sports destinations to youth communities both within Switzerland and in specific markets around the world.
New focus: they create a common and exciting focus for the youth
There are very few occasions for a city to create a common focus for youth around a strong, globally recognised product. The Youth Olympic Games, because of their Olympic nature, are unique in this respect.
The hosting of the Youth Olympic Games - an event so closely related to such a world-famous brand – immediately inspires a level of enthusiasm among young people otherwise difficult to achieve. And if such enthusiasm is used correctly, which is a priority for the IOC, it should result in the long-term empowerment of the youth. Young people are widely encouraged to get actively involved in the development of the event, and this creates a tremendous motivational effect that is very rarely obtained otherwise.
The hosting of the Youth Olympic Games - an event so closely related to such a world-famous brand – immediately inspires a level of enthusiasm among young people otherwise difficult to achieve
In Lausanne, from a practical point of view, we have actively engaged schools at all levels in delivering key elements of the event. The Mascot and the ‘look of the Games’ are developed by a local arts and communication school which has, for the first time, been able to mobilise all its various departments - graphic designers, fashion, video artists, advertising students - around one common project. The Lausanne Hotel School is heavily involved in the design of our nutrition model, and will also be in charge of our hospitality concept for our Youth Olympic Village.
And the new focus I speak of also applies to younger students. Thousands of pupils between the ages of five and 10 are already being told about the positive values of sport, the power of the Olympic dream. This creates a renewed interest and energy for sport participation programmes at every level. And this is perhaps the most powerful impact of the Youth Olympics Games – uniting the youth around a common and exciting goal while at the same time promoting the important values of sport and Olympism.
New model: they are a new and improved model for event hosting
This is perhaps not very visible from the outside, but since their creation in 2008, the Youth Olympic Games have drastically evolved in the way they are organised. Not only do the Games provide additional benefits that are not usually taken into account with the traditional event hosting business model of ‘visibility-awareness-sponsorship-cash revenue’, but they are challenging the model as well. The IOC, together with the current Organising Committees, are developing new concepts that encourage host cities to work in a new, disruptive way, looking for different, longer-term benefits than immediate cash returns.
The Youth Olympic Games trigger collaborations. They promote partnerships. In return, the organisers benefit from partner engagement. The concept behind the Games is not to impose an event on a place and its stakeholders, public or private, but to work with these stakeholders to envision how the event can help them achieve their own objectives. This is invaluable.
In Lausanne, for example, we are not just building a Youth Olympic Village. Rather, hosting the Games here has accelerated the development of a much-needed student lodgings project that is now finally under construction, and will be used by students following the Games’ completion. To give another example: our transport system is not an add-on, but is fully integrated in the future development of the city public transport authority.
Put simply, the Youth Olympic Games enable cities to move from an event-led approach, where the event is used as an ‘imposed’ stimulus, to an event-themed approach, where the event is used as a uniting theme for development and regeneration for public and private entities alike. The latter is both more stable, as it involves all stakeholders from the first moment, and provides the best foundation for a lasting legacy, building upon existing envisioned projects, rather than proposing new ones.
By enabling cities and countries to say new and interesting things about themselves to a crucial new audience, by creating a new focus and empowering youth, and by helping organisers to approach sport event hosting through a radically new and more sustainable model, the Youth Olympic Games are a true game-changer – and more relevant than ever for cities today.