Youth Olympic Games show the power of sport to build bridges between communities

Published: 16 January 2012 11:12 CET

By Giovanni Zambello in Innsbruck

A solemn Olympic oath spoken in the snow-filled Bergisel stadium before 15,000 people officially opened Innsbruck 2012, the 1st Winter Youth Olympic Games. This year, in Innsbruck, Austria, approximately 1,100 young athletes from 70 countries are competing in the true spirit of sportsmanship.

At the last International Conference of the Red Cross Red Crescent in November 2011, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Olympic Committee jointly pledged to further their efforts in building a culture of non-violence and peace through the promotion of skills- and values-based education and cultural awareness. Sport was identified as one of the key activities for nurturing humanitarian and Olympic values and reaching out to youth and children.

Claudia Leggett, who represents Australia in the ski-cross competition, said sport was not just about healthy living, but could help build bridges between commuities. “It makes you feel excellent, it is good for your body and your mind, and it’s fun” she said. “But I also believe there are values behind it. The same values that bring all of us together today at the Olympics, such as the ideas of doing your best to achieve your goals, of making friends with people from different countries and contexts, and getting along in fair play.

“Being an athlete, you do have to make some sacrifices, like avoiding junk food in order to keep healthy, getting a lot of sleep, not drinking alcohol, and of course training, training every day, several times per day. But it is definitely worth it. I think that this can be a good model for people of my age: how determination and hard work can help you reach your goals. And about how taking good care of yourself is essential.”

But this event, and its participants, have meaning beyond the sports themselves. To be real role models and ambassadors of positive values young athletes must balance their physical endeavour  with cultural awareness and education. The Cultural and Education Programme (CEP) of Innsbruck 2012 will develop the skills of young athletes through a series of creative and competence-building activities, such as arts and music sessions, media lab and sustainability projects.

Nicolas Chamerois, manager for the CEP, said that the young athletes were citizens of the world.  “A citizen who should be aware that there are other values beyond those that they live every day when they compete, such as the humanitarian values that the Red Cross Red Crescent is here to promote, and all the humanitarian issues they are connected with. I think it is important for athletes to get in touch with these issues, and to feed their knowledge and thinking, so that they can bring them back with them to their families, clubs and schools.”

As official partner of the Culture and Education Programme of Innsbruck 2012, the IFRC, in partnership with the Austrian Red Cross, has organized a series of interactive, and educational activities around the topics of HIV and AIDS awareness, first aid, promotion of blood donation, healthy lifestyles, and positive images in relation to migrant people. These programmes address young athletes as well as children and youth from local schools.

Gundi Moser volunteers as a first aid trainer in the Austrian Red Cross, and gives first aid demonstrations at the games. In the last six years, Gundi has provided 16-hour first aid courses in primary and secondary schools.  “Learning first aid is like learning a language: the earlier you start, the faster and better you can learn it and make it yours,” she said. “I think it is very important that kids start in primary school, when they are still at a very young age and have not yet developed barriers and prejudices towards other people. It’s not just a matter of teaching first aid as such, but also of helping them to overcome selfishness, and encouraging them to be there for people if they need us and be open-minded.”