With the nation's eyes fixed on the 2012 Olympics, the largest sporting event in England this year may all too easily be overlooked. It too is international and involves a cast of thousands. The International Children's Games, which will be held this summer in Coventry, is expected to attract 2,000 young athletes aged 12 to 15, from 70 cities in 50 countries. This annual festival of youth sport was initiated in 1968 by a Yugoslavian schoolteacher who wanted to improve understanding between children from different nations, and has been growing steadily ever since.
Cities rather than individuals enter the competition, and each city may send 25 participants, including coaches and one city representative. The sports represented include athletics, swimming, tennis, table tennis, and football for boys and girls.
"We hope that the International Children's Games will have a lasting impact on the children and young people of Coventry," says Alison Toner, education officer at Coventry's services for schools. "Sport is a universal language which most young people can connect with. The games in Coventry will put the city and its schools on the map."
Secondary schools and their feeder primaries will be running joint summer sports festivals before, during and after the games, and teams, officials and dignitaries from other countries will be encouraged to take part.
A "reporter's scheme" involves 25 children from four schools who meet out of hours to hone their media skills and cover preliminary events and the games themselves. Kimberley Roddie, aged 12, from Tile Hill Wood School, has already interviewed Richard Gaborn MP, Minister for Sport and Tourism, and hopes to cover swimming and football at the event itself. "I hope the games will make more people interested in participating in different sports," she says. Other initiatives include an "adopt a city" scheme, whereby schools will have an opportunity to make a link with one or more of the participating cities and schools; arts ompetitions; and the planting of a new woodland containing trees from the five continents, which will provide an environmental studies resource for the Coventry schools.
More than 1,500 children and young people will participate in carnival and theatre performances during the opening and closing ceremonies. An international symposium on child welfare in sport will be held alongside the games. Child welfare has emerged in recent years as a key theme in debates on ethics in sport and is a field in which the UK is leading the way, says Professor Celia Brackenridge, director of the symposium. Two topics will be paramount: "Giving the child a voice in sport and the fact that sport can develop the sort of resilience and confidence in children that protects them against abuse, whether sexual, emotional or physical."
Organisers include the NSPCC, and topics will cover parenting highly gifted young people, and sport as a means of rebuilding communities and lives.
Other events include a film recording an international debate on ethics in sports, and a live debate in which Coventry children will discuss the same issues.
* The International Children's Games take place from July 6-11. For further information on the symposium go to the website and click on Symposium www.childrens-games2005.org.uk