With its youth, the IOC wants to work for the future

The health crisis has postponed the next Summer Youth Games, scheduled for 2026 in Dakar, by four years, depriving an entire generation of athletes of their first Olympic experience. But the IOC does not forget about youth.

Since 2016, the Lausanne-based organization has dedicated a program to them with the support of one of its global partners, Panasonic. Originally called “Young Ambassadors” and directly associated with the Youth Games, it was later renamed “Young Change Makers”. Then it was renamed “Young Leaders”.

Croatian IOC Program Manager Ana-Maria Garcevic, along with three young leaders, was present this week in Paris for World Sports Week. She answered questions from FrankGames.

FrancsJeux: Six years after its inception, what is the IOC Young Leaders program today?

Ana Maria Garcevic : The program was originally closely linked to the Youth Games. Initially, the Young Ambassadors had a mission to promote the event and how sport can play a specific role through projects with a social dimension. In 2020, we revised the program. Now it works on a four-year cycle. Financial support has also been increased to CHF 10,000 (€9,600) per project. We invest more and longer. The program is also more individualized in terms of requirements for young leaders, as some of them are still studying and others are working full-time. The current action involves 25 young people aged 19 to 30 years. At the end of the year, we will select 25 more people. We have two selection phases over a four-year cycle.

How are these young leaders recruited?

The selection is carried out in two stages. The first stage is open to everyone. It lasts for six weeks and provides an opportunity to make the first selection among a very large number of applications from all over the world. We get about 3000. In this initial phase, there is a session each week about Olympism and Olympic values. Applicants who have completed six weeks of this first phase, numbering 550 for the current promotion, continue the selection process. They must write a cover letter and film a one-minute video in which they introduce themselves and explain their project. We then draw up a smaller list of about a hundred applicants. Finally, 25 young leaders are selected by a 16-person committee from various IOC departments.

Does the promotion manage to reflect the rules of universality and diversity of the Olympic movement?

Yes. In the last class, out of 25 young leaders, 13 are girls and 12 are boys. With the exception of Oceania, where the number of candidates is small, all continents are also represented. We have a young Spaniard from the LGBT community. The projects carried out by these young leaders are also very diverse. They focus on health, well-being, peace, climate change, inclusion…

The IOC is not the only organization that finances social and humanitarian programs, but also one of the few where they are carried out by young people. Is this peculiarity felt in the nature of the proposed projects?

We’re not the only ones, really. FIBA, in particular, through its foundation is developing a program for youth. We sometimes work together. I believe that what characterizes the projects of our program, and especially those who implement them, is a mixture of energy, a certain naivety and a very idealistic approach. The young leaders of the IOC are convinced that they can make a difference. We encourage them in this direction. The best example is undoubtedly this young Korean woman from the latest promotion who dreamed of creating a women’s hockey league in her country ahead of the 2024 Winter Youth Games in Gangwon. Not in South Korea. On paper, the project seemed impossible, or at least very difficult. But she spoke with partners, with the federation … She succeeds. Today everyone wants to be associated with his project and support it.

Are young leaders becoming participants in the Olympic movement, as the name of the program suggests?

The program is still young, only six years old. You will probably have to wait until he is ten years old to come up with an initial estimate. But the 18 young people who have participated since its inception now sit on various IOC commissions. There are many examples of former program participants joining National Olympic Committees, International Federations or private partners. The program has opened doors for them in the sports movement as well as in sports or the environment.