Commonwealth Youth Games: A Catalyst for Sports Development?

When the idea to create of the youth version of the Commonwealth Games was mooted during the administration of Jamaican Mike Fennel, the immediate-past President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), not many people subscribed to the concept.

It took a while for member countries of the 71 member-federation to buy into the idea for it to take roots.

Indeed, it was FIFA that actually pioneered popularising the idea of age-group competitions and in the process, pushed the frontiers. It has virtually become a success story around the world.

With so many of such competitions now in the public domain, many countries -- which hitherto could not afford to host the mega FIFA World Cup tournaments because of the huge financial outlay involved -- are able to rally funds to stage what could be termed as ``abridged versions’’ of the competition.

Apparently because of the low financial involvement, countries have been jostling over one another to host these competitions

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not waste time in latching onto the idea, as it introduced the Youth Olympic Games.

Nigeria’s IOC Member, Habu Ahmed Gumel, explained that the arrangement was adopted in a determined bid to get sports to reach the grassroots in order to achieve a faster spread of sports and provoke mass participation in sports at all levels.

``The youth hold the key to the future of sports around the world and that is why the Commonwealth sporting movement has also adopted the strategy as well,’’ he said.

According to Wikipedia, an online information portal, the maiden Commonwealth Youth Games were held in August 2000 in Scotland, where 733 Athletes from 14 countries competed in eight sports disciplines over a space of three days.

The 2nd Commonwealth Youth Games took place in Bendigo, Australia, in December 2004, with no fewer than 1,000 athletes from 22 countries competing in 10 sport codes.

The 3rd Commonwealth Youth Games were held in the Indian city of Pune, from Oct. 12 to Oct 18, 2008, where not less than the 71 nations and territories that make up the Commonwealth Games family participated in nine sports.

A decision was then taken by the CGF at its General Assembly in 2005 to move the Youth Games outside the Olympic Games year and in doing so, it awarded the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games to the Isle of Man.

At its General Assembly in 2008, the CGF awarded the Youth Games to Samoa and subsequently adjusted the games to a quadrennial cycle, so that future events would take place every four years.

All competitors in the Commonwealth Youth Games are expected to be within the age bracket of 14 to 18 years in the year of competition (a minimum of 14 years and a maximum of 18 years).

It was also resolved that a maximum number of 1,000 competitors are to be invited to participate from every Commonwealth Games Association.

It is, however, pertinent to note that since the creation of the Commonwealth Youth Games, many of the small countries, particularly the island nations within the Commonwealth of Nations, have launched bids to host the youth games.

``Ordinarily, many of these countries might not be able be able to host huge games like the Commonwealth Games; this provides a veritable opportunity for them to host smaller games,’’ said Tony Ubani, the Head of Media, Nigeria Commonwealth Games Association.

Only recently, the Bahamas has been awarded the right to host the 2017 games, while Belfast in Northern Ireland will host the 2021 edition of the games, as announced on Jan. 29.

The 2017 edition of the games is expected to take place between July 19 and July 23 in Nassau, the capital city of the Bahamas.

The event would have seven sports -- Aquatics (Swimming), Athletics (Track and Field), Boxing, Cycling (Road), Judo, Rugby Sevens and Tennis and it is the first time that Judo will feature at the games.

The Bahamas’ event will be the second time that the games would be held on a small island state, following the hugely successful 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games that were held in Samoa.

Besides, the Bahamas games will be the first Commonwealth multi-sport event to be held in the Caribbean for over 50 years, with Commonwealth athletes last participating in the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

At the CGF’s Executive Board meeting in Gibraltar, Commonwealth Games Federation President Louise Martin said: ``It gives me the greatest pleasure to announce that the Executive Board of the CGF has unanimously voted to award the upcoming edition of the Commonwealth Youth Games to the Bahamas.

``The Commonwealth Youth Games are a unique and empowering opportunity to celebrate and engage young people on the level playing field of sport.

``I commend the Bahamas Bid Committee for their passion, commitment and expertise, and I look forward to helping them realise their dream of having an impactful and inspiring games for the Bahamas, the Caribbean and the Commonwealth.’’

Almost all events will be held in the same sporting precinct -- Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre -- which includes the world-class 15,000-seat Thomas A Robinson Stadium, venue of the opening and closing ceremonies and Athletics.

The sporting action will also reach out to the communities and streets of the island, with the cycling event taking place on the streets of New Providence.

Romell K. Knowles, the Secretary-General of the Bahamas Commonwealth Games Association (CGA), who welcomed the announcement, thanked the CGF for the decision.

His words: ``We jubilantly thank the executives and members of the Commonwealth Games Federation for the confidence placed in our country by the award of the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games to The Bahamas.

``Having been awarded the right to host the games, thousands of young Commonwealth athletes will now be inspired to compete in the sport of their choice, in the hope of representing their countries at the prestigious games. Everyone wants to come to The Bahamas.

``The Bahamas is a Caribbean archipelago of 700 islands spread across 100,000 square miles, of which 30 are inhabited by a population of less than 400,000; it is located around 50 miles off the coast of Florida.

``In addition to the sporting action, the 6th Commonwealth Youth Games promises a rich, colourful and diverse cultural Commonwealth celebration, inspired by the islands’ world-famous carnival parades, which acknowledge and recognise the Commonwealth Diaspora and emancipation of former African slaves in a vibrant musical celebration.’’

The CGF also named Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, as the host the 67th Commonwealth Youth Games scheduled to take place in the summer of 2021.

At a special event attended by Commonwealth Games Northern Ireland’s Patron, Dame Mary Peters, and athletes from previous editions of the Commonwealth games and youth games, CGF President Martin announced the decision to award the hosting right of the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games to Northern Ireland.

``The Commonwealth Youth Games are an important and inspiring demonstration of the connecting and life-changing power of sports to bring people and different communities together.

``The CGF looks forward to working in close partnership with you to realise your ambition to write a proud and ambitious new chapter in Northern Ireland’s history through the unifying power of sports.’’

Responding, Robert McVeigh, the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council’s Chairman, said: ``On behalf of the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Council, I’m delighted to accept this offer to host the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2021.

``This is a hugely significant day for local sports; the result of many years of lobbying and hard work. It offers a great opportunity for children in upper primary schools to strive to become part of the largest ever team at Commonwealth Youth Games.

``We also look forward to the tremendous support for which the Northern Ireland’s public is renowned.”

Northern Ireland, which has a population of 2 million people, is part of the United Kingdom and is located on the island of Ireland.

The territory has participated (with the exception of 1950) – and won places on the podium -- in every edition of the Commonwealth Games and all five editions of the Commonwealth Youth Games.

Alongside the sporting action, the 7th Commonwealth Youth Games is expected to offer a diverse and dynamic cultural and Commonwealth celebration, showcasing Belfast’s young people and Northern Ireland’s waterfront regeneration projects such as the Titanic Quarter.

Following these decisions, the CGF, the Bahamas and Northern Island as well as government partners have been mandated to constitute local organising committees to coordinate and facilitate preparations for the games, which have been widely recognised as a veritable tool for sports development.

Tony Nezianya/NAN