By Nick Butler in Nanjing

The Sheikh on his journey around Nanjing's Youth Games venuesAugust 17 - Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, President of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), today hailed the pivotal role that sport plays in the life of all people and set out his vision to make its importance even more central in the future.

The Sheikh, speaking on the opening day of action at the second Asian Youth Games here, claimed he sees sport as a central part of modern culture and considers a contrary view downplaying its significance to "no longer exist."

"Most parents now love their children to go into sport," he said.

"The world has changed and sport has now become an industry where it is in the life of everybody and no one can live without it."

The Sheikh spent the day touring various Youth Games locations here and this included lunch in the Athletes' Village cafe to the delight of the many young competitors present.

He also presented the first gold medal of the Games to China's under 48 kilogram weightlifter Huihua Jiang.

Sheikh Ahmad with the first gold medalist in Nanjing: Chinese weightlifter Huihua Jiang Sheikh Ahmad with the first gold medalist in Nanjing: Chinese weightlifter Huihua Jiang

The Sheikh was keen to elaborate on how the OCA organised Games here - like all such events - would benefit both the host city and the wider Asian youth community through the building of new facilities and the forging of better reputations, as well as broader benefits trickling down to the citizens.

"Many countries for example, such as China after the 1990 Asian Games, have used sport to promote healthy lifestyles," he said.

"It is also our duty to make as many facilities as possible in cities small and big, by creating the chance for a local body to implement the changes they see fit.

"In Nanjing we have done this despite having a low budget.

"We want these Games to be a success and a good environment for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games – where it is our honour for Asia to have hosted the first two editions."

Sheikh Ahmad poses with competitors from his own country of Kuwait in the Athletes' VillageSheikh Ahmad poses with competitors from his own country of Kuwait in the Athletes' Village

The 2013 Asian Youth Games are a test event for the Summer Youth Olympics here next year, which follow an inaugural event in Singapore in 2010, and this is one of many measures that the OCA are introducing to boost sport in the continent.

Another measure involves the use of the Olympic Solidarity Fund donated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where top performers at the Asian Youth Games will be awarded funding towards the best facilities and environment in order to ensure sustained success through to senior levels.

A further means is holding events for age groups two years younger than for IOC events to ensure that young Asian athletes have a head-start over their competitors.

While the 2014 Youth Olympics will consist of athletes with a minimum age of 17 the Asian Youth Games indeed includes 15-year-olds, and this has also been seen at other continental events.

But Sheikh Ahmad claimed sporting Games are not purely about competitive action and that athletes should simultaneously "enjoy, learn, experience and find friendship."

This was a message epitomised by the Opening Ceremony last night, where a cultural presentation chartered the journey of teenage development through the medium of the four seasons.

Three girls wearing Bhutan National Costume in the Cultural Centre in NanjingThree girls wearing Bhutan National Costume in the Cultural Centre in Nanjing

This message was also evident in the Cultural Centre in the Athletes' Village here, something the Sheikh sampled for himself during the course of the day.

"It was a beautiful Village and I enjoyed seeing a sample of some of these cultures today," he said smiling before revealing a gift he had been presented with at one the stalls.

"It's great that the volunteers and the athletes were enjoying the atmosphere as without culture and education there is not a Games.

"The 13,500 volunteers make our lives and jobs much easier, particularly because they are of different ages, are well-educated and are all very good at foreign languages.

"We also awarded six student journalists scholarships to come here which is a unique precedent towards having youth in the field as media and advisors in addition to being athletes.

"These points are very exciting for someone like me who has been at many championships.

"It makes me feel proud about sporting success."

These young journalists were awarded scholarships to come and report at NanjingThese young journalists were awarded scholarships to come and report at Nanjing

Sheikh Ahmad has been the President of the OCA since 1991 and is also now head of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC), as well as increasingly becoming a major player in the IOC.

Yet it is clear that his first love is the development of world sport and he was quickly divulging the various ways that Asia has led world in introducing sporting change.

"We have introduced three on three basketball which will be on show this week at the Asian Youth Games," he said.

"The Youth Games itself is an IOC initiative but it of course began in Asia.

"We are also currently working with Asian Track and Field to develop a unique beach event at the 2014 Asian Beach Games."

The fourth Beach Games are due to be held in Phuket in 2014 and will consist of at least 25 sports including beach volleyball, beach handball and water skiing and, due to the requirement only of sand, they exist on a lower budget than at any other Games.

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