Sports revolution in… Singapore

Predicting the future of sporting disciplines is a risky exercise but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may have made it a little easier this week with the announcement of the sports programme for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games to be held in Singapore in 2010.

Although competitions will take place in the full range of 26 Olympic sports, far fewer disciplines will be included than at the Olympic Games and many of the events are unfamiliar. Here are some of the key innovations:

- Basketball: 3 against 3 on a half-court
- Cycling: combined BMX/mountain bike/road event for mixed teams
- Rowing: single sculls and pairs events only
- Sailing: windsurfing and 1 person dinghy events only
- Several sports will include mixed team or relay events, including athletics, swimming and triathlon

The intention is to keep the costs down and to enable athletes from a wide range of countries to participate in some of the sports which have typically been restricted to wealthier nations and those with comprehensive, state-funded training programmes.

Once the precedent has been set at the junior age level, even if athletes are also competing in more traditional disciplines, the pressure will be on for the successful innovations to be carried forward for adult competitions. I think that mixed relay events in particular could be a big success.

Looking into the more distant future, it is easy to imagine that certain events requiring expensive facilities and equipment could fade from the scene: velodrome cycling, eights for rowing, multi-handed sailing events, and others.

The Youth Olympic Games will prove a testing ground not only for talented young athletes (aged 14 to 18) but also for new competition formats. Is this a glimpse into the future?

Singapore, the IOC, international federations and other stakeholders face a major challenge to make the Youth Olympic Games worthy of the Olympic name over the next year and a half. Using the new youth games as an opportunity to try out different competition formats will probably add to the interest. It is thanks to the relatively low profile of the event so far that these major innovations have been introduced without prompting much public controversy.

A sporting revolution beckons in Singapore in 2010.

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