Like much of the developed world, Wales faces the challenges of a population that is getting more overweight and growing old. Add to this mix areas of entrenched poverty – which has been shown to magnify health inequalities – and there is a recipe for a public health crisis that could last decades.
Recognising this the Welsh Government asked Sport Wales to pull together a vision for sport. Unlike other national strategies this was to be owned by the nation and not just by those people that run sport.
Today is the launch of this vision and I am proud to have played some part in its development working alongside Barley Communications.
So, what is so different? For the first time a country has embraced a truly cradle to the grave approach to sport. This vision is as much about keeping the pensioners fit as it is about giving children the skills to live active lives. This is a significant shift.
When we talked to citizens about what they wanted, it was pretty clear plenty of people want the chance to get fit but don’t currently have the confidence to take part in ‘traditional’ sport. This is why the vision focuses on enjoyment rather than simply meeting health targets.
For too many people the idea of sport is a deeply engrained negative one. This often is a consequence of off-putting childhood experiences. Preaching at people about the benefits of sport or promoting unrealistic role models also isn’t going to work. Giving people a range of fun opportunities that are easily accessible will. For some this might mean training for a marathon, but these people will always be in a minority. Most people have lower expectations and want to take part in an activity that they enjoy and feel safe doing. For some this might be practising yoga in their bedroom, for others it might be football ‘golf’. It’s these kinds of activities that need to be encouraged, even if at the start they don’t necessarily achieve huge health benefits.
We would like to take the credit for developing the vision but in reality, we were just the simple ‘water carriers’- albeit ones that delivered this vision on time and underbudget. Creating the vision was a real team effort. What was surprising was everyone from the top down were willing to take risks. Those people who worked and volunteer at a community level shaped the vision and set its tone but were also encouraged by the Welsh Government officials and the board of Sport Wales who pushed for radical and innovative approaches.
But is it achievable? We believe it is. Wales has fantastic national resources, deep community spirit and a genuine national love for sport. The vision sets the right path, it is owned by the people, developed by those who love sport and supported at the highest levels in government.
The vision will however only become a reality if focus on creating fun accessible experiences. And to do this we all are going to have to get out of our comfort zone.