The Winter EYOF in Vuokatti has been the EOC's first multi-sport event for more than two years ©Nacho Casares/EYOF 2022 Vuokatti

Spyros Capralos has described his first European Olympic Committees (EOC) multi-sport event as the organisation's President at the Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) here as "a learning experience", and claimed that it has thus far been delivered "in the best possibly way".

The Hellenic Olympic Committee President, who is also an International Olympic Committee member, was elected as the head of the EOC in June last year.

He referenced "the recovery after the pandemic" as one of the "many challenges ahead" after seeing off the former Acting President Niels Nygaard of Denmark at the vote in Athens, and the Winter EYOF for athletes aged 14 to 18 is the EOC's first major event staged since COVID-19 first struck Europe at the beginning of 2020.

Having twice led to the postponement of the Festival, he said that it was critical that participants were given the opportunity to compete in Finland.

"For us, the Youth Olympic Festival is something very important because it brings together the best young athletes of Europe," Capralos said during an exclusive interview with insidethegames.

"This one was particularly important because it's the first time we've had a multi-sport event since the pandemic started, so because this event had already been postponed two times it was very important for all those young athletes to be able to participate, and they did."

The Greek official said that the EOC had received positive feedback from those taking part in the Festival.

"What we get as a result from the reaction of the athletes is that they are very happy with this environment, so we are very happy that the Finnish organisers have delivered in the best possible way, and that our athletes and our National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are very happy from being here," he commented.

This is the first of a series of multi-sport events under the EOC's auspices on the horizon in the near future.

Banská Bystrica in Slovakia is due to stage the Summer edition of the EYOF in July.

Spyros Capralos said the Winter EYOF is
Spyros Capralos said the Winter EYOF is "very important because it brings together the best young athletes of Europe" ©Niclas Walter/EYOF 2022 Vuokatti

In 2023, each of the EOC's flagship competitions - the Summer and Winter EYOFs, the Games of the Small States of Europe and the European Games - are due to be held.

Capralos insisted that there was plenty to take from the Festival in Vuokatti to guide the direction of future competitions.

"Also for me it was a learning experience being President in such an event," he admitted,

"You realise the complexity of the event.

"You realise that there are many things that you need to take quick decisions, and you need to be flexible.

"Of course the situation with the war in Ukraine did not facilitate things, so there were important decisions to be taken to move ahead, so that's what we did."

The United Nations' (UN) estimated civilian death toll in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion exactly one month ago has now surpassed 1,000, although it is feared the true figure is far higher.

More than 3.6 million have fled the country according to the UN's Refugee Agency, and Russia - as well as its ally Belarus - have largely been frozen out of the international sporting world, including bans on their athletes and officials at the Winter EYOF.

The involvement of 26 Ukrainian athletes has been one of the stories of the Festival, and Capralos reiterated his thanks to the European NOCs who helped to ensure that they were able to travel to Finland.

"It has been really emotional," the EOC President shared.

"We have felt it at the Opening Ceremony when the Ukrainian team got into the stadium with a standing ovation.

The presence of 26 Ukrainian athletes at the Winter EYOF in Vuokatti has been
The presence of 26 Ukrainian athletes at the Winter EYOF in Vuokatti has been "really emotional", the EOC President Spyros Capralos insisted ©Getty Images

"Everybody was very happy to see those young athletes parade with the flag of their country, with their own uniforms because up until two weeks before the Games, they didn't have uniforms, they were spread in different places, and nobody knew how they were going to come.

"Of course, it was one of the main words that we have in our Olympic world - solidarity was part of what happened.

"Many National Olympic Committees, mainly the Finnish but also the Polish one brought these athletes here and they provided them with clothing, they provided them with transportation means, they provided them accommodation, food, so I think it is a fantastic end result.

"But there are other National Olympic Committees also who were involved with this.

"It was Estonia.

"Austria and Italy provided them clothing, and there are many other NOCs.

"The Olympic Family is big, and it's not just EYOF.

"There are many Ukrainian athletes that have fled the country, or are stuck outside the country because they were training or participating in other competitions, and they have found shelter in other European countries in Croatia, in Romania, in many others.

"In total up to now 29 Olympic Committees have helped Ukrainian sport to be able to provide them some relief over their suffering."

The Winter EYOF has also been marked by a decision from the EOC Executive Committee to extend its measures against Russia and Belarus to include the Summer EYOF in Banská Bystrica.

EOC President Spyros Capralos said the organisation's measures against Russia and Belarus were taken in the interest of athletes' safety and
EOC President Spyros Capralos said the organisation's measures against Russia and Belarus were taken in the interest of athletes' safety and "the integrity of sport" ©Getty Images

Officials from both countries serving on the Executive Committee or Commissions will also temporarily not be invited to meetings.

Capralos expanded on the moves taken by the EOC, although suggested that the sanctions would remain under review.

"It was not a light decision," he said.

"We care a lot about the young athletes, and we cared a lot that these events take place in a safe environment for everybody.

"That was mainly the reason that we decided it was better not to have the athletes from Russia and Belarus here.

"The same was also for the integrity of sport.

"You don’t want other athletes to react in a way that is not appropriate for the Olympic values that we all have.

"And for the Banská Bystrica for the Summer edition, we had to take decisions because there is a closing of the registration right now.

"For the team sports we have to replace the Russian teams with the first teams that were on the list, and so we had to take those decisions because there are draws, there are different things to do with organisation.

"But of course we are there ready if things change and we hope that things will change and peace will come soon to bring back those athletes because we want the whole family together."

The Winter EYOF is due to conclude in Vuokatti tomorrow.