Sport - Everywhere
The costs of healthcare and care for the elderly are going through the roof amidst falling budgets and ever more obesity. Most of the reaction to this involves an endless tug of war between regulators and corporate interests. As with alcohol, corporate interests fight tooth and nail to continue as they are with no consideration of the costs placed upon taxpayers in casualty units or hospital wards.
So there’s no chance of heading off mass diabetes and obesity through expecting industry to show restraint - and it’s an expensive sideshow to pretend they’ll have a sudden change of mind.
The obvious alternative route was to encourage access to sports facilities and to invite people into physical activity and sport. Unfortunately, that option has been ruled out, because sport is increasingly for those who can pay for access to facilities - and to make sure they pay access has to be heavily gated. In Glasgow this has involved selling off public parks; charging £25+ for a slot on 5-a-side pitch; placing the pitch where you need a car to get there; and banning taking a football to any patch of grass left over.
At the same time the funding for major facilities and coaching is poured into the narrow funnel of finding a handful of people able to compete for Olympic medals, through their willingness to surrender their childhoods to 24/7 training regimes. This approach defines sport as the preserve of the exceptional, where the only winners are gold medallists and everyone else is a loser.
It’s not that high performance sport is a bad thing by any means. However, the number of homes in Castlemilk with a set of curling stones lying around is about as many as the number of homes in Pollock with carbon steel bikes.
So where’s the out - well the Olympics model, reflected in many PE classes, is about sporting specialisation. Participation is often low in terms of a great deal of standing around before and during play; and repetitive when trying to perfect a particular set of skills.
If we look at other forms of sport, particularly in childhood and outside competitive arenas, it becomes clear there is one area where everyone gets involved, which is consistently popular - sports games. Safe ‘assault courses’, dance, chases, playground games, climbing and clambering along walls, catch . . . are all straightforward, but fun. In addition they are easy to access and often about having a go instead of trying to defeat everyone else.
Along similar lines surely basic self-defence training for all at an early age would be an ideal platform for developing those who later choose to go into performance sports, while also connecting athleticism to practical skills. At the same time, we’d be building the confidence to encourage years of participation in sport.
However, that’s only going to happen when we avoiding telling a 5-year old wanting to walk along a low wall they’re too old for that now. And when sport becomes about fun, which is accessible and acceptable everywhere.