A recent survey confirmed the findings of the annual UK Commons Education Select Committee survey that found that there is no noticeable increase in children doing sport in the UK since the Olympics. In the words of the parrot Iago from the Disney movie Aladdin, “I think I’m going to die from not surprise” (I have no idea how or why I remember that quote by the way…)
It makes very uncomfortable reading. Most people fail to even go for a 10 minute walk once a month! Only 21% of boys between under the age of 15 were active for an hour a day, down from 28% in 2008. And for girls the figures are worse, only 16% which is down from 19% in 2008. Teenagers are worse, 14% of boys between the ages of 13 and 15 are getting enough exercise, a figure down from 28% in 2008, and for girls the figure is just 8% down from 14%. And adults do not fair much better. 2/3 of men and about 50% of women do 2.5 hours of moderate activity a week (the same as 2008), but before producers of sports clothing get too excited, the weekly activity done by 59% or women and 48% of men is household chores. Only 46% of men and 37% of woman said they had walked for 10 minutes in the previous 4 weeks. Shocking, really shocking.
Government figures state that 1.6M more people are doing regular sport since the UK won the Olympic bid in 2005, but where is the evidence? Not only is there no apparent legacy from the Olympics, in children the figures are actually getting worse.
So what happened? As with most things, there are a combination of contributory factors. Those in the political arena will point to a systematic selling off of school playing fields. Others will blame Playstations, Candy Crush or the Internet. It’s certainly not through a lack of exposure to sport, as with dedicated sports channels, high profile sporting events and the ability to watch endless replays on YouTube, there is more sport in the media than ever before. People love the sport celebrity culture, but rather than try to emulate their heroes or heroines, they’re quite happy to just sit and watch.
In my opinion, whilst all the above factors are of course relevant, one big issue is the severe lack of facilities. The standard and number of decent sporting facilities in the UK is a disgrace. Over the last decades, the interest in sport and physical activity has been eroded and throttled so now we have a legacy alright, but it’s one of lethargy and apathy. It’s quite ridiculous to think that by having the Olympics would’ve solved the historical underlining issues. Sure, it was an amazing event and without doubt it generated a lot more interest in sport, but where the hell were all these interested people supposed to go? Public facilities are typically dirty and outdated, many people cannot afford expensive health club membership, and as for gymnastics or the majority of other disciplines, good luck finding a club without a waiting of a few years.
The answer is simple. Not easy, but simple. Improve facilities and educate our children. It’s not a quick fix, but they never work anyway. It’s going to take years to change the cultural attitudes toward exercise and health in general, but we need to start. Remember the story of the Spanish admiral centuries ago who much to the amusement of his colleagues instructed the planting of thousands of oak trees so there would be enough raw materials for ship building? “But it will take 100 years before we can use this wood” they said, to which he replied “you better get planting straight away then”. So when do we start planting our metaphorical oak trees? There’s no sign of it yet.
I recently wrote to the UK Government asking them to talk to me about introducing Pilates into schools as part of my Pilates Allstars System for children. Pilates is not cardio of course (or at least in my opinion it should not be) but it builds a foundation for sport, it gets children into the exercise habit, all children no matter what their sex, shape or size can do it, and imagine the benefits and money saved for UK business and the National Health Service if our kids left school with strong postural muscles, body awareness, flexibility and good postures? You will die from not surprise to find out no one was interested.
You only have to remember parents smuggling McDonalds Happy Meals into schools where Jamie Oliver had introduced healthy eating to know that we have a big cultural problem in the UK when it comes to health. But we must try because if we do not, the consequences are unthinkable. Let’s start planting those oak trees so that later generations can truly benefit. That will be a legacy worth waiting for.