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Spotlight on mass sport – More exercise for everyone!?
When asked how he had reached such an old age, the previous British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is said to have answered: "No Sport!" From a scientific point of view it isn't surprising that there is no well-founded proof of this quote from a man who was a passionate athlete in his young years. The reason for this alleged statement is therefore debateable, but it is sure that "couch potatoes" of any age group make use of it as an excuse for not undertaking any bodily exercise. Churchill lived to be 91 years old – even today a good age – but the reason probably wasn't that he abstained from sport.
Sport and exercise, along with a balanced diet, are considered today to be the basic recipe for a long and healthy life. This basic principle applies to people of all age groups. For many years now, associations, health insurance companies and clubs have been active in motivating the population to take part in regular exercise and sport. One of the best known initiatives in Germany is "Deutschland bewegt sich" (German moves), an initiative from the Barmer GEK health insurance in cooperation with ZDF television and the newspaper "Bild am Sonntag". This action has been running since April 2003 and so far, has reached around 34 million people. Through "Join in" events involving sport an exercise, clarification campaigns, provision of information and media coverage, this initiative has gained great coverage and has been able to generate more awareness. The sustainability of the project was determined in a study carried out by the sport university of Cologne in 2010. Forty-six per cent of people questioned stated they would now take more care with regard to healthy nutrition and 40% had increased their sport activities to include more exercise. (More information is available in English at https://en.barmer-gek.de/barmer/web/Portale/English/Best-health-insurance/Startpage/StartPage.html.
Exercise is not just mental – the environment needs to be right as well
It would seem the ball has been set rolling. The different initiatives and projects are reaching an increasing number of people and motivate young and old to more sport and exercise. So far so good, but even when motivation exists, the question still arises, "Where can I take part in sport?" Easy, running shoes on and off you go. Sounds simple but is actually absolutely not to be recommended for many older people and sporting beginners. Jogging or running is a good method for proficient athletes to keep fit, but for everyone else it is too great a strain on the joints and after a short time, the resulting aches and pains take all the joy out of sport and kill the will to exercise so that the new project is quickly shelved. Hiking and Nordic Walking are alternatives to jogging but are time intensive and not possible locally for people living in an urban environment. Fitness studios do not appeal to everyone and can also be very expensive. A further possibility for regular sport is to join a club. Even in smaller communities these often have a comprehensive range of sports on offer. Sometimes it is difficult for beginners to gain a foothold, especially in many team sports, and most of the clubs suffer from the most major problem facing amateur sport – the poor quality of community sport infrastructure.
Closed swimming baths, missing sports centres, sports facilities in need of renovation – these problems are well known in many places. The communities do not have enough money so that clubs and hobby athletes end up paying the price. In many German towns and cities there is a lack of open exercise areas. This kind of facility is usually missing all together or the "public" infrastructures are only available to schools and clubs. Hobby athletes are usually not able to run a few laps of the track, spend some time on fitness equipment or kick around on the football pitch. It is true that the number of newly built public exercise facilities is increasing, but the overall development is still in an early phase, often this is due to a lack of community funds.
Problems of amateur sport also affect competitive sport
It is not only hobby athletes who suffer under a lack of sport infrastructure, clubs are also increasingly forced to limit the activities they offer. This is often not due to too few willing trainers, but to missing facilities. In many cases, children's sport is affected. It has long been a concern that the number of swimming accidents will increase in future as today, many children do not have an opportunity to learn how to swim. And this is only one aspect: In many places sports clubs are forced to close, in other areas children cannot join a football club as there is no room. Many sports are now complaining about missing juniors – a situation which also has an effect on competitive sport.
Up to the politicians
Sport infrastructure in the German towns and cities will not improve decisively by itself. The holes in the community pockets are large and other areas affected such as civil engineering or education, enjoy higher priority and more attention. At the same time, the majority of sport clubs do not have sufficient funds of their own to cover expensive renovation work. It is now time for German politicians to make a move. While top-class competitive sport is supported by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, the German regional states are responsible for amateur or mass sport. Support for community projects can be applied for, but it is often the state of the budget which decides on the amount and number of subsidies which are awarded so that many projects are turned down. Despite this in 2008, the Federal German Ministry for Agriculture and Nutrition and the Federal German Ministry for Health started a national action plan with the title "IN FORM – Germany's initiative for healthier nutrition and more exercise" (IN FORM - Deutschlands Initiative für gesunde Ernährung und mehr Bewegung). By 2020, it is intended that the basic principles of a healthier way of life are anchored in society. Along with a comprehensive information platform, numerous projects and measures connected with this topic are being provided with support. This is in no way however, a strengthening of the structure of amateur sports although this is exactly the decisive starting point to achieve sustainable support for the topic of exercise. Sport and exercise form the foundation for a healthy population and therefore, for a properly functioning economic system. There is definitely a need for action to increase the possibilities for sporting activities. Theory alone is of no use if practical implementation is doomed to failure in the first stages.
The possibilities are numerous
In many places, amateur or leisure-time athletes would be greatly helped with only small measures. A green park, where exercise can be taken without problems from traffic or other hurdles and which is regularly maintained to remove dog dirt and broken glass which kills the fun of sport. It would also be useful to create free areas which invite play or sporting activities. Really sustainable support for amateur sport however, requires more than these basic measures. This is especially true as the idea is to motivate the population to take part in regular and permanent exercise and this should involve more than just a walk in the park. Intergeneration exercise areas have already replaced the exercise paths of the 1970s and often offer a varied exercise programme for young and old. Far-reaching programmes using different pieces of equipment installed in this kind of area are available: Outdoor fitness equipment, appliances to increase motoric capabilities or for gymnastic exercises, etc. etc. Here also, a classic playing field independent of club associations, today perhaps with artificial turf instead of clay, can promote fun and sport, especially for youngsters and teenagers. Space and equipment should also be devoted to modern trend sports. Whether slack line or calisthenics, free running or beach volleyball, all these free sports are currently very popular and yet are only rarely included in sports clubs programmes. It is exactly in these cases that hobby athletes are dependent on public facilities to carry out their sporting activities and once in place, these facilities attract other, previously dormant users. Public sports facilities and areas make towns and cities enormously more attractive as a place to take up residence. They are popular showpieces; provide good sporting infrastructure and attractive leisure-time facilities for all generations and promote sport and exercise for citizens. Reason enough to pay more attention to this kind of project and in doing so, in amateur sport as a whole!
Sporting activities and exercise should not only be promoted by appealing to the population, but should also be focussed on by public support for amateur sports – and actions must now follow the (many) words. The number of people partaking in amateur and popular sports can only increase where opportunities exist for them to take part in these sporting activities. For this reason, the sporting infrastructure must be expanded in this respect and corresponding funding be ensured. Only in this way can all the positive initiatives and projects be successfully and sustainably implemented so that the repudiated Churchill quote will one day be forgotten and replaced by a well-known pearl of wisdom: "Only those on the move can change direction".