Why aren’t Singaporeans more excited about the Youth Olympic Games, asked my editor a few days before the event started on Aug 14. Is it because people don’t know who the athletes are, he asked. And if there is indeed a lack of excitement, then what should our expectations of the Games be? How should their success be gauged?
“Why can’t the athletes just have fun?” I replied with a shrug, not willing to over-analyse the purported impact and significance of the YOG before the event had even run its course.
To some, “fun” is no way to justify the $367 million spent on the event.
But talk to the athletes and volunteers involved, and there’s a sense that they have gained so much from the whole experience.
Si Ling Secondary School student Muhammad Amirrul Asraff M R, for instance, spent a few days with some schoolmates manning the Djibouti booth at the World Culture Village in the athletes’ village. When it rained, they had to put up transparent plastic curtains to prevent the rain from splashing in. The ten-hour shifts were “quite tiring as it’s fasting month”, said the 15-year-old.
But he has befriended some athletes in the short span of time, and even brought a hockey stick, a pair of spectacles and light sticks as parting gifts on his last day at the Village on Thursday.
On Tuesday when he watched the South African girls lose 0-13 to the Netherlands, he consoled them by saying “it’s not about winning, it’s about having fun”.
You have to be a cynic not to believe in the potential of the YOG to enliven minds and create better individuals through ways both weird and wonderful.
And in anticipation of South African swimmer Chad le Clos becoming a Summer Olympics star years down the road, can I just say now that I first saw him in person at the Village, as a teenager competing at the inaugural Youth Olympics?