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09 May 2011

The Experience of a Lifetime

Youth Olympic Games Young Reporter Sonali Prasad (India) recalls her experience as a panelist at the 9th World Conference on Sport and Environment held in Doha, Qatar, from 30 April to 2 May.

“It came as more than just a pleasant surprise when, less than a year after the first ever Youth Olympic Games was held in Singapore, I received an invitation to speak at the 9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment conference in Doha. Several thoughts began running through my mind. When I realized I was heating up due to the excitement, I closed my laptop and breathed deeply. When I opened it again, the smile that spread across my face, from one ear to another, said it all.

After much waiting and anticipation, the day finally came when I flew to Doha. What I saw was simply breathtaking: a beautiful combination of sand and sea, the Qatari capital is rich in culture, art and tradition. Shortly after I arrived came one of the best moments of the trip, my reunion with my YOG Singapore mentor Tracey Holmes and fellow YOG Reporters Luke Dufficy (Australia) and Hissa AlNassr (Qatar). I also got to meet Callum Ng, a YOG Young ambassador from Canada and show jumper Dalma Malhas, the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an Olympic event (she subsequently went on to take bronze in the individual discipline). All six of us were to be panelists for the final session of the conference entitled ‘Tomorrow’s Leaders Today’.

Brewing with innovative ideas, we used our time to prepare and practice our speeches and attend other sessions. Listening to the different panelists was an eye opener in many aspects. I was especially inspired by Jill Savery’s speech. A former Olympic medalist herself, her speech delivery was impeccable and she managed to motivate her audience to be more proactive towards climate change. As official reporters for, Luke and I also got an exclusive interview with IOC President Jacques Rogge during the conference!

It would be no exaggeration to say our session was by far the most anticipated of the conference. Many people approached us to say that they were looking forward to hearing our views as the generation who will be most affected by environmental change. We were each given a different topic to talk about, but we were all nervous as it was our first time on such a big stage. Still, we were determined to make the session the best one of the conference. It helped that our chair, Olympic medalist Frankie Fredericks was very accommodating and guided us all through the session.

When it was my turn to address the audience, all thoughts evaporated except one: show them that youngsters have a say in matters as important as environmental sustainability. All the nervousness got translated into confidence and I was able to deliver a memorable speech. In fact, we all did very well and when the session ended the shutterbugs went into frenzy! People were taking pictures all around, offering their business cards, congratulating us for our work. Tracey was very proud and it was evident on her face.

However, my most touching moment of the trip would undoubtedly be when a lady came up to me on stage, hugged me, and said that my speech had inspired her to think of what she could do to make her own small contribution to saving the planet. That was when I realized that my purpose of speaking at the conference had been served. That was when I realized that this experience will be etched as a sweet memory in my mind forever.”

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