A new stage has been built for the world’s young footballing talents to display their wares with the first-ever Youth Olympic Football Tournaments (YOFTs) to be held in Singapore later this year. The inaugural edition of the quadrennial event will take place during August with the aim of bringing together talented young athletes from across the globe to participate in a variety of sports.

“The Youth Olympic Games are the flagship of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s determination to reach out to young people,” declared President Jacques Rogge on 21 February when Singapore was announced as the host venue ahead of Russia’s capital Moscow. “These Games will not only be about competition but also be the platform through which youngsters will learn about the Olympic values and the benefits of sport.” 

Rare opportunity
With the vision set forth by President Rogge, the summer event is expected to bring together some 3,600 of the world’s finest young athletes, including 216 male and female football players who will compete in two six-team tournaments.

After twice finishing runners-up in the West Asian Football Federation Championship, Iran will get a chance to take on the world in the women’s tournament. The fledgling women’s football nation will be joined by Turkey, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile and Papua New Guinea who will each represent their respective confederations.

Hosts Singapore have been granted a place in the men’s tournament as AFC representatives, with the remaining five berths allocated to Zimbabwe, Cuba, Bolivia, Vanuatu and Montenegro. While the lines-up may look unfamiliar, the opportunity to see new nations in an elite football environment is likely to have broad popular appeal at the Games, as is the case at each senior Olympic Football Tournament.

Ambitious hosts
Despite boasting one of the most successful football sides in the ASEAN region, Singapore have made little impression on the global stage and have yet to reach the FIFA World Cup™. The south-east Asians have made just one appearance in the continental finals when they were guaranteed an automatic place for the 1984 AFC Asian Cup as host nation. The boy’s Youth Olympic Football Tournament, however, will provide a rare opportunity for the Singaporeans to showcase their progress in front of a global audience.

“Our senior side came close to progressing to the final qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and they are hopeful of qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar 2011 with one game remaining,” Singapore Football Association spokesman Eric Ong told FIFA.com. “Inspired by them, our young players will strive to break ground in the new competition.

“We had a training camp in Austria last July before travelling to Thailand for friendlies. A series of more competitive games are planned for this year in the build-up to the tournament, including matches against some senior teams,” he continued.

“While we are aiming to make it a successful event, our boys must make best of the chance to gain international experiences and exposure as they are our future.” The six-team format will consist of two groups of three, with the top two finishers advancing to the semi-finals.

Participating Teams
Boys: Singapore, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Bolivia, Vanuatu, Montenegro
Girls: Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, Papua New Guinea, Turkey