Sporting gestures: global health

Policy makers around the world are hoping the lure of sports initiatives may help stem the growing tide of obesity. Vision reports

For the organisers of the  London 2012 Olympic Games the issue of what ‘legacy’ it would bring about was a varied one. Much of the focus was put upon tangible structures like the Olympic stadium - but surveys carried out after the closing ceremony reveal that the lasting testimony of the ‘greatest show on earth’ could be a much-needed change in the health of the nation.

The success of the British athletes inspired around 55 per cent of school-age boys and girls to become active in even more sports. A study by the UK’s Local Government Association in the spring of 2013 also found that three quarters of councils reported an increase in people accessing their sports facilities or activities. These latest figures are even higher than those during the Olympics – hinting that Britain could be the first Games host nation to demonstrate a sustained rise in sports participation.

The timing could not have been better. Prior to the Olympics public participation in sports was in decline while figures for health-related issues linked to inactivity, like childhood obesity were rising sharply. Physical activity, including sport, is linked to a reduced risk of over 20 illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

It’s not just the physical benefits either. “Research shows that sport can help young individuals to raise self-esteem, decrease symptoms associated with depression and improve their ability to cope with stress,” explains Rhonda Cohen, sports psychologist at Middlesex University, England.

It’s no surprise then that even in these austere times policy makers are prepared to fund and promote sports-based initiative to improve public health statistics.

The Australian government is midway through a five-year, US$65m programme in conjunction with the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health to deliver sports and healthy lifestyle projects across the nation. These include new gyms, community based team sports start-ups and AustCycle – a nationwide drive to get people fit through cycling more.

In Dubai the campaign to use sport to help combat the Emirates’ own obesity issues has stepped up a gear with the recent launch if Dubai Sports World 2013.

“Dubai Sports World (DSW) is designed to keep residents and tourists active during the hot summer months,” explains Ahmed Alkhaja, Senior Vice President - Venues, Dubai World Trade Centre – host of the DSW events.

The Middle East’s largest indoor sporting extravaganza brings together a whole host of sporting partners to offer a full range of health and fitness boosting sports including Tennis 360, Ping Pong Dubai and G Force Cricket. Tournaments include five-a-side football, rugby, dodgeball, volleyball, and squash - open to people of all ages with specific challenges created for young, budding athletes.

“Our mission is to get kids active by helping them learn a new sport or hone an existing skill whilst also encouraging them to learn skills that can be taken into the real world,” explains Jim Reilly, Director of IFA Sport whose group will provide football and basketball session through the three-month long event.