The matches for fifth place at the Youth Olympic Football Tournaments Nanjing 2014 were played out under the watchful eye of one particularly prominent spectator. Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has been following proceedings at the Jiangning Sports Centre Stadium with great interest, and the 1976 fencing gold medallist found time for a short interview with FIFA.com during his visit.
FIFA.com: Mr. Bach, what’s your preliminary verdict for these Games?
Thomas Bach: This has been an exceptional Youth Olympic Games so far, thanks in large part to the friendly welcome extended by our hosts and the completely smooth running of the event.
How much enthusiasm have you experienced in Nanjing so far?
You can feel the excitement everywhere you go: in the city, in the various sporting venues and, above all, in the Olympic Village. The athletes are incredibly happy. The number of spectators that have turned out for this football competition is also really impressive for a youth competition.
The Olympic Village also seeks to promote an educational and cultural exchange between the athletes. The concept certainly appears to be going down well among these young competitors.
The organisers have done a very good job of finding a balance between focusing on competition and promoting the cultural and educational aspects of these Youth Olympic Games. As soon as you speak with any of the athletes, it’s clear that although they’re naturally focused on their respective events, they’re also taking every opportunity to visit stands representing the other countries, take part in the educational programmes and make new friends. “YOGging” is a popular sport in the Olympic Village.
You were once a successful Olympian yourself. How important is participation in the Games for the sporting and personal development of an athlete?
I believe the Youth Olympic Games have a major role to play in this respect. They enable the athletes to get a taste of what it’s like to be an Olympian, get used to this kind of major multisport event and familiarise themselves with the ideals of the Olympic movement by learning about foreign cultures, getting to know one another and learning an unbelievable amount about themselves and their lives.
How closely have you been following the football?
I’ve been following the football very closely, all the more so given that I’m something of a “frustrated footballer” myself (laughs).
Did you also watch any matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil?
Yes, of course. I also managed to keep up my tradition of watching every World Cup Final live since 1986.
In four years time, the third edition of the Youth Olympic Games will be held in Buenos Aires, where you were appointed as IOC President last year. Does that make the prospect of going there again all the more exciting?
I’m really looking forward to the next Youth Olympic Games because they will demonstrate Argentina and South America’s interpretation of sport and the values of the Olympic movement. It will be a very different experience to this event in China, but just as good.