ATR Extra: Let’s have fun and build friendships through School Sport - ISF U15 World School Sport Games Belgrade 2021

A lifetime experience for the U15s of the ISF for this inaugural event. The 2023 edition to be hosted in Brazil.

Athletics relay girls podium (ISF)
Athletics relay girls podium (ISF)

School sport delegations from 35 countries gathered for the 1st U15 World School Sport Games - Belgrade 2021, from September 11 to 19. It was a week rich in emotion thanks to a program combining sports competition and educational program for 2,500 participants aged 13 to 15.

ISF President Laurent Petrynka said, “What is most striking to see is the smiles of the young participants and their joy of being together. The enthusiasm of young people and adults on the occasion of this first edition of ISF U15 WSSG Belgrade 2021 is our motivation at ISF.

“The combined efforts of our members and schools as well as the implementation by our Serbian federation of health protocols have made it possible to organize games applying the new version of our educational and sports program.

“We are satisfied to have been able, like the IOC, to offer a multisport event allowing young people to meet. It is important in this time of crisis, that young people and their entourage understand that we organize events at their destinations to allow them to continue to flourish. It is significant for us to continue to carry the message on the Olympic values in the school environment and especially of the importance of sport as a vehicle of encounter, culture, and development of young people.”

Bringing together nearly three dozen countries for an inaugural event under restrictions linked to COVID 19 is a success for the ISF. This is confirmed by the attribution to Brazil of the second edition for the year 2023.

In 2018 the Gymnasiade - World School Games - was restructured to make it a major multisport event with 14 sports on the program.

Badminton at ISF U15 WSSG 2021 (ISF)
Badminton at ISF U15 WSSG 2021 (ISF)

The daily program that allowed participants to compete one part of the day and participate in educational activities the other part has proven to be a success. Indeed, Fun and Skill zone, ISF Forum, Nations Night, ISF Seminars on safeguarding and finally wrestling clinics allowed participants to acquire more knowledge and understanding topics addressed by international sports federations and their partners.

As stated by Samira, a table tennis player from the United Arab Emirates: “The fun and skills zone and the nation’s night were the most fun part of the event. I love table tennis and the competition was exciting, but with the fun & skills zone we had the chance to share and born some new friendships with other participants of other countries.”

The ISF is also very happy that the MoUs signed with the different sports federations and partners could be implemented during this event. Indeed, the representatives of international sports federations (BWF, FIBA, FIDE, IJF, UWW) insisted on the importance of school sport both to develop their own sport but also to involve young people in sport over the long term.

Nenad Lalovic, President of United World Wrestling, said: “Today, we negotiate with different governments, different ministries of sport, so we can have wrestling in primary school education. Maybe the strongest national championship is the collegiate level one in the US. We believe that our sport, for being one of the most natural sports with the human body and human psychology, should be hugely represented in the educational system.”

Organizations such as WADA, the EU, UNESCO and the IFPC have expressed the importance of educational institutions in pursuing policies dedicated to a healthy lifestyle. The groups also say it is important to install sport values by emphasizing awareness of the benefits of sport to ensure that young people continue to play sport at any age while having fun.

Taekwondo athlete celebrating (ISF)
Taekwondo athlete celebrating (ISF)

The goal for the ISF is to give even more motivation to young people to practice sport and to make them understand that school sport can empower them for their life. The ISF says sport can address issues such as gender equality, anti-doping, clean sport, nutrition, fair play, green friendly, respect. Three subjects are particularly important to the ISF. These are “safeguarding children in sport”, “Fair Play” and “Clean Sport”.

Sophie Bordet, ISF Board Member and Chair of the Integrity Committee, is the leader of the Safeguarding of Children program of ISF.

A complete program focused on safeguarding children in sports activities was divided into two parts -- seminars and an awareness activity in the Fun and Skill area. This allowed participants to familiarize themselves with this theme.

For Ms. Bordet: “Usually the issue rises when a problem is recognized: there is a victim, let’s put some safeguarding in place... But not much is done for prevention. At the ISF, we would like to change this paradigm. We want to deliver key messages through educational programs to children, so they can identify/recognize an inadequate or abusive behavior and then give them the basic tools to react and ask for help.

“The kids are smart, and we must give them orientations to understand how to be safe in any environment, including their sports practice. Therefore, in the ISF we promote Safe Sport, free from all forms of abuse or violence: sport must be safe and fun for all.”

Fair Play at Fun and Skill (ISF)
Fair Play at Fun and Skill (ISF)

In ISF the implementation of Fair Play is done as an integral part of the events with elaborate documents and precise instructions engaging ISF sports officials and Heads of delegations. For each ISF event there is a Fair Play awards ceremony which ends the medal ceremony on the last day. ISF has a private partner for the Fair-Play Trophy which is Kinder by its “Joy of Moving” program since 2014 and since 2018 the institutional partner is the International Flay Play Committee for the Fair-Play medals. For the Belgrade event the IFPC, was also part of the activities of the Fun and Skill zone.

Gabor Deregan, the chief of staff of the IFPC President declared : “It reflected the nature of the Olympic Games in a small way, competitors of several sports were together, participated on joint events, games and were partially co-located.

“The Fun and Skill Zone was more than the highlight of the event. Children could play together, know each other’s culture, and try different games and tools together. These examples should be shown for the whole world, as they are our future. There were hundreds of examples like this in the Fun and Skill Zone, it was really touching seeing them becoming friends from very different countries. The children just talked and laughed with each other”.

Fun and Skill Zone (ISF)
Fun and Skill Zone (ISF)

“Finally, IFPC and ISF have common goals, to educate children to be better adults. The even closer cooperation between the two organizations is very important for the athletes of the future, but even more important that most of the athletes competing under ISF will be not become top-athletes, but will remain in recreational sport, where the spirit of Fair Play is equally important. Not to mention the fact that they will be in a competitive situation in their studies and later on their workplace, that means that they will have to be fair players in other areas, too”.

In terms of clean sport, Ms. Kanouté Tounkara, Chair of the WADA Education Committee, stressed the importance of values-based education in the anti-doping system. She underscored that every athlete’s first experience with anti-doping should be through an educational program, and not the testing or sample collection process.

She said: “I believe that every sport organization, including WADA, has the same goal: to protect clean sport and promote athlete health.

“For WADA and the anti-doping community, the goal is to focus on prevention by ensuring that every athlete is educated at a young age. WADA’s research has shown time and time again that athletes overwhelmingly want to compete ‘clean’. This is why WADA has been focusing on ‘education first’ as part of its strategic priorities.

“The Sport Values in Every Classroom toolkit and ADEL for Talented Athletes are just two of the many resources available for schools, governments and sport organizations to help educate young athletes in a fun and interactive way.”

WADA Director of Education Amanda Hudson said: “We are grateful to the ISF for including WADA in this fantastic event for school children engaged in sport and physical activity. The presence of so many youth athletes at this event provides an ideal opportunity for WADA, sports organizations, and governments to invest in and prioritize the development of these young people through education and sport. We look forward to continuing to develop our partnership with the ISF in the future.”

The young athletes competed in fourteen different sports : Athletics, Badminton, Basketball and 3X3, Chess, Football, Judo, Karate, Orienteering, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Volleyball and Wrestling.

Basketball 3x3 at ISF U15 WSSG 2021 (ISF)
Basketball 3x3 at ISF U15 WSSG 2021 (ISF)

The Olympic Channel livestreamed Basketball, Basketball 3x3, Football, Judo and Wrestling competitions and was responsible for more than a third of the more than 60 hours of total broadcast coverage for these sports.

The largest delegation was Ukraine with 271 athletes having representatives in all sports. In terms of gender participation which is a policy in which ISF is investing a lot we notice for an athlete representation of 46% girls and 54% boys.

Countries representing four continents attended the Games. That mirrors the rapid growth of ISF, which increased from 88 countries (mainly European) in 2018 to 132 in 2021. Finally let’s notice that 32 countries from the four continents won medals at this event.

We can notice the victory of Uganda in Basketball 3X3 boys or Namibia athlete in 100m track and field boys. These victories are symbolically important for ISF given that ISF President Laurent Petrynka leads an active policy towards Africa.

Uganda is one of 23 African countries that have joined the ISF since 2018. With the win of Mexico at men’s tournament in Basketball we have a similar phenomenon as the American country only joined ISF two years ago, in 2019. It is encouraging to notice that two countries from two different continents which joined ISF recently demonstrate their commitment to perform at the best levels.

The ISF combines a high degree of technical sport organization in cooperation with the International Sport Federations while ensuring specific activities promoting the spirit of the ISF based on participation. Indeed, many different and unique activities are organized to give participants more enthusiasm to enjoy an international event.

Table Tennis is one of them. President of the ISF Table Tennis Technical Commission Mr Pieter Schippers gave this example:

“With ISF we organise ‘friendship doubles’. The friendship doubles is a special tournament that gives the opportunity to these young athletes to find out more about each other, mixing with other players. The operation is to make a double tournament, it can be teams with different nations, with different genders, everything is possible but if they win, they go to the next step with a new partner. So, you can go to the final in 4 rounds with always another partner because it gives the opportunity to play with a partner from another country, and with partners you have to play together. It is a chance to make new friends, and discovering more about other athletes from other countries, connecting over the sport they love to play.”

Hrvoje Custonja, ISF Secretary General, says: “This inaugural multisport U15 ISF event was a triple challenge not only because it was a first for this age group, (but also) because no ISF event has included so many educational activities in the past and then obviously because the pandemic is still present.

“We must underline in this globalized world, that the maturity of the young participants was exceptional in their implication and interest. We believe that we have achieved our objective of playing sports as a tool for learning about well-being and citizenship. Knowing the organizational capacity of Brazil and strong from our successful experience in Belgrade, we look forward to offering a new edition in 2023.”

Presented by International School Sport Federation