SINGAPORE -- Three years ago, the International Olympic Committee authorized the launching of the Youth Olympic Games. Skeptics abounded. There is still ample reason to be skeptical about the YOG adventure. Simply put, it is not the Olympic Games, Summer or Winter.
Then again, it's not designed to be, and on the occasion of the opening ceremony of the very first Youth Games, that difference arguably makes for the very reason YOG stands as an experiment of considerable merit, one for which the IOC -- no matter the outcome here -- ought to be commended.
"I feel like a father waiting in the delivery room for the birth to happen," IOC president Jacques Rogge said at a news conference Saturday morning, a few hours before the opening ceremony.
"... I'm optimistic. But I still want to see the baby being born."
Let there be no misunderstanding: YOG is unequivocally Rogge's baby, the key initiative of his presidency. He pushed it through the IOC session in Guatemala City in 2007 and has championed it since.
The IOC's avowed goal of getting YOG going was to enhance the Olympic connection with young people, and moreover to do so in different ways, to explore in part the reach of the internet and the potential of social media.
Implicit in the launch, meanwhile, was an admission that the IOC needed to a better job of re-connecting with its core values, the ones that since Baron Pierre de Coubertin got the modern movement going in 1894 have set it apart from every other sporting enterprise.
As an organization, the IOC holds close to tradition. Its senior officials are given to a conservative nature; the movement is now a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise, and you don't act rashly with that much at stake.
That makes it all the more remarkable that something like YOG could ever be launched.
At the same time, it was obvious something had to be done.
And no matter how given to tradition, the IOC truly does recognize it must experiment and innovate. In recent years, such innovations had become the province of some of the IOC's constituency groups, in particular the Asian Games, a regional mini-Olympics. With YOG, the IOC is the one asserting control over the experimentation.
Some of the experiments here are comparatively modest -- 3-on-3 basketball, for instance.
Some are, by Olympic standards, radical. The IOC has invited 29 young reporters from around the world to chronicle the event; those young reporters are, in a first, living in the Olympic Village alongside the athletes. (Disclosure: I am here teaching in connection with the Young Reporter program.)
What, then, to expect from YOG, which runs through Aug. 26?
For one thing -- not perfection, and not anything close.
A Summer or Winter Games gets seven years from selection to opening ceremony. Singapore has had roughly two-and-a-half years.
What else? A difference in scale.
A Summer Games runs to 10,000 athletes. Here the number is in the range of 3,000.
A major effort from senior IOC figure Ser Miang Ng and other locals eager to make plain that Singapore is in every way capable of anything. While one current of thought, as expressed by a taxi driver Friday night, is that city-state Singapore is too small to ever host the Summer Games, there's this, too: local officials are already crowing that there won't be any white elephants left over after Aug. 26.
Many of the countries that traditionally dominate the medals counts at a Summer Games would seem unlikely to do so here.
The American team here in Singapore, for instance, does not include the country's top swimmers or gymnasts, and there's no way it could. YOG falls between the U.S. swim nationals earlier this month and the Pan Pacific championships later in August, both events in Irvine, Calif.; meanwhile, the U.S. gymnastics nationals are ongoing this week in Hartford, Conn.
"I really hope it is a small country that wins," international basketball federation secretary general Patrick Baumann told Associated Press, referring to the 3-on-3 tourney. "I am sure there will be some surprises."
The most notable challenges:
Will the locals fill the seats? Unclear. These are 14- to 18-year-olds competing in these sports, not stars the likes of Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt.
And, beyond -- who's going to know out in the big wide world what's happening in Singapore?
Already it's clear that some of the stories that will come out of here are precisely the sort the IOC craves. You want to talk about young people connecting with the Olympic values? A 12-year-old boy, Low Wei Jie, shadowed the YOG torch relay as it made its way around the city Tuesday. In all, he ran nine miles. He ran for two-and-a-half hours. He ran through heavy rain. He ran in flip-flops.
"When I read in the newspapers that the flame was coming here," he later told the local Straits Times newspaper, "I just wanted to see it for myself, and follow it. I might never see it again."
Similarly compelling are some of the quotes already rocketing around the internal YOG news service.
"When you drop out of school, you have two options. Neither of them are good. You get into drugs or you go to jail. Ben found another way through sports," Zambian team manager Yonah Mwale said of boxer Ben Muyizo.
None of this is likely to be featured elsewhere on softly lit television features that fill prime time. It doesn't make financial sense for NBC to come here for two weeks.
It's not that there isn't TV coverage; there is, and it reaches most countries. But YOG is not must-see TV. Thus the dilemma. How are the very young people the IOC is trying to reach supposed to know in any meaningful way what this is about?
Finally, and along much the same line:
Is the goal here to launch the sports careers of those who will succeed Phelps or Bolt? Or merely to create a feel-good Olympic camp experience, and hope the campers will go home and rave about the experience to everyone they know?
If it's the latter, what are the metrics by which one might assess whether YOG is achieving what it is the IOC is shooting for? And the time frame in which it's reasonable to expect such results?
It's because of these sorts of questions that skeptics abound.
"As I have said, we approach this with the necessary humility. Here and there we make mistakes," Rogge said Saturday. "We even make mistakes at traditional Games -- still, after 110 years of existence.
"But the spirit of this house is to learn from errors, and to improve."