As the Olympic torch relay leading to February's Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, gets underway, the International Olympic Committee has embarked on an aggressive campaign aimed at attracting a younger audience, which over the years has lost interest in the Games. It will include the use of digital media like blogs and videos, and social-networking concepts that the IOC hopes will encourage fans to interact with one another and engage with the event in a more immediate way. The IOC has also introduced new sports in the Summer Games, including rugby, which has broad international appeal and—unlike many other sports—requires no expensive gear and can be played and understood by virtually anyone regardless of income level or geography. In a further bid to bring in young fans, next summer in Singapore the IOC will inaugurate the first Youth Olympic Games, where 5,000 athletes ages 14 to 18 will compete in 26 sports.
The loss of interest in the Games is partly a reflection of a broader decline in athletic participation. Government budget cuts have meant fewer parks and recreational spaces, and cuts in the quality of physical education in public schools. It has also become increasingly clear to the IOC that another reason for declining interest among the young is that the old ways of reaching out no longer work. In some parts of the world 70 percent of the population is under 25 years old, and they are learning about events through electronic devices and viral marketing techniques, not traditional media outlets. So now, after years of talking about tapping a potentially enormous market, the IOC is finally moving ahead, representing a new frontier for the Olympic Games.