* Sofia unveils plan after thumbs-up from IOC President Bach
* Balkan country currently hosts worlds in three Olympic sports
* Critics question need for Youth Olympics
SOFIA, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Bulgaria will prepare a bid to host the Winter Youth Olympics in 2024 after receiving a message of encouragement from International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on Friday.
Bulgaria, a Balkan country with a population of 7 million, failed in bids to host the Winter Olympics in 1992 and 1994 and then pulled out of the race for the 2016 Youth Olympic Games.
The Black Sea state will this year host three world championships in Olympic sports — rowing, rhythmic gymnastics and volleyball — and Bach has showered praise on the country’s organisational abilities.
“What you’re doing is unbelievable,” Bach said after meeting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov in Sofia on Friday. “Currently, three world championships in Olympic sports are held in Bulgaria, which I think is an Olympic record.
“It gives me the opportunity to encourage you to go to the next level and bid to host the Winter Olympics.”
The Bulgarian government wasted no time in embracing the idea enthusiastically and almost immediately unveiled a plan to host the global sporting event for young people.
“Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has asked the Minister of Youth and Sport Krasen Kralev to prepare Sofia’s bid to host the Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2024,” the sports ministry said in a statement soon after Borissov’s meeting with Bach.
The Youth Olympics are restricted to athletes aged between 14-18, and 2024 will be the fourth edition of the Games.
The first Winter Youth Games were held at Innsbruck, Austria in 2012, Lillehammer, Norway hosted the second edition and the Swiss city of Lausanne will host the third edition of the event in 2020.
The IOC, based in Lausanne, has been struggling in recent years to convince potential hosts of the benefits of the Youth Games, amid worries over mounting costs and limited interest.
Some critics have also questioned the need for a Youth Olympics in an already crowded sporting calendar with so many sports organising their own national, regional and world championships.
Reporting by Angel Krasimirov Editing by Toby Davis