In a spirited procession on an overcast evening in the Eternal City, the Vuokatti 2022 European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) ‘Flame of Peace’ was lit and now burns brightly.
Young Finnish snowboarder and 2019 EYOF athlete Veera Immonen passed the flame to European Olympic Committees (EOC) president Spyros Capralos, who then handed it over to Vuokatti 2022 Organizing Committee head Mika Kilpeläinen.
The evening ceremony in the Italian capital opened at the Ara Pacis museum’s Augustae, an astonishing monument sculpted by Emperor Augustus to celebrate peace throughout the Roman empire.
Addressing EOC and Vuokatti 2022 attendees, Capralos dedicated the upcoming European WYOF to IOC honorary president Jacques Rogge, the founder of the multi-sport youth evert, the first edition launched in Brussels in 1991. Rogge, also the former president of the EOC and Belgian NOC, died in August.
“The EYOF were first brought to life by former EOC and IOC President Jacques Rogge, who presided over the first edition in Brussels in 1991,” Capralos said, addressing those in attendance at Ara Pacis in Rome. “The EYOF of course were also the inspiration for the Youth Olympic Games implemented by Rogge and the IOC in 2010.”
“President Rogge sadly passed away on August 29th this year, but I am sure he would be delighted the EYOF are still going strong some three decades after he brought them into being.”
“As Vuokatti 2021 will be the first EYOF held since his passing, I would like to dedicate this edition to him.”
The EYOF Games will be divided into two separate parts in the central Finnish city of Vuokatti, who will host the event for the second time, having also done so 20 years ago in 2001.
While the core program will take place in March , the boys hockey tournament opens in just over one week, a decision made due to various league scheduling conflicts.
Capralos addressed the many positive attributes of the EYOF.
“Today we are celebrating peace and brotherhood, as the European Olympic Youth Festival at its core has always been an occasion to bring together the youth of Europe in peaceful competition and to learn about and espouse the Olympic values of friendship, excellence and respect.”
Vuokatti organizers should be commended for their patience and perseverance, partnering with the EOC, as the Games have been postponed twice already due to the pandemic.
“There has been much more work for us because of the COVID situation and the time of our Games being changed two times but we continue to do our best,” said Kilpeläinen, the mayor of Sotkamo and Organizing Committee chair of EYOF Vuokatti 2022. “It’s very important for us and our city to welcome the youth Olympic competitors.”
As the talented teen-aged hockey players are now one year older due to the postponement, the Vuokatti leader noted the numerous National Hockey League team scouts headed to the small Finnish city to attend games and assess talent.
Capralos said addressing the EOC’s Finnish partners: “We have all learned during COVID-19, flexibility and innovation have been crucial commodities. I would like to take this opportunity to warmly thank our hosts for being so accommodating with the schedule and the delays due to the pandemic. You have done a terrific job in preparing for the event and I think I can speak on behalf of everyone here today in saying that we cannot wait to get started.”
Representing CONI at the Rome ceremony was deputy vice president, Silvia Salis, while Paola Mattoccia was present on behalf of the Municipality of Rome. Both addressed the ceremony attendees.
In addition to the flame lighting the representatives from Vuokatti 2022 were presented with The Dea Pax Golden Olive Tree sculpture, a symbol of peace and friendship whose branches represent the unfolding of the EOC umbrella to receive athletes from all European National Olympic Committees.
The 30th edition of the multi-sport youth event, and 15th winter, will encompass approximately 2,000 athletes and officials from 47 European National Olympic Committees taking place March 20-25. Competition is scheduled across nine sports over five days in ice hockey, figure skating, short track speed skating, cross country skiing, biathlon, snowboarding, alpine skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined.
“We have such a long winter here, and everyone is born on skis and skates, so everyone loves these sports in Finland,” Kilpeläinen said.
European Olympic Committee officials honor Rogge
EOC officials paid tribute to Rogge’s vision, commitment and dedication to youth sport as the father of the European Youth Olympic Festival, created under the name of European Olympic Days. The inaugural edition in Brussels 1991, preceded the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore by nine years.
Djordje Visacki, an EOC Executive Committee member & Serbia NOC Secretary General, led the organization of the Belgrade 2007 EYOF shortly after his sporting career finished.
“Obviously, president Rogge was very fond of this event and I think he enjoyed his time in Belgrade,” Visacki told Around the Rings in Rome. “I really felt his enthusiasm for this event, and not just because he basically invented it during his EOC presidency, but also his view of creating the opportunity for young athletes.
“It’s like a small Olympic experience and knowing that probably 80 percent or more are not going to make it to the big ones, giving them an opportunity to be part of the Olympic movement and carrying this feeling their whole lives.”
Florin Misca, the Vuokatti Co-Comm chair and deputy Secretary General of Romania also commended Rogge.
“After 30 years of interrupted EYOF, we might say that he had a great vision and the European sports system is grateful to his ideas,” Misca told Around the Rings. “Jacques had a very good vision for this product and he continued his vision for youth in the IOC while developing and promoting the Youth Olympic Games.”
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