The Youth Factor: Force for Sport and Human Development
Young people are often viewed with suspicion in most cultures.
They are deemed to have an abundance of energy and enthusiasm, which they sometimes expend negatively. This often leads to self-destruction of the youth and increased societal problems such as alcohol and drug abuse with disastrous consequences such as sexual promiscuity, teenage pregnancies as well as prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.
This view of youth, as a problem rather than an asset, is indeed highly erroneous. Firstly, young people do not exist in isolation. They are part of society. The challenges they face are not of their making but are issues, which, in most cases, require the assistance of the rest of society to deal with them.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is teeming with young people. Young people, who are below the age of 30 years, constitute more than half of the 277 million people of this region. This population structure is very much unlike some parts of the world where there are increasing numbers of people over the age of 50.
There are obviously advantages and disadvantages for any population structure, however, there is need for policy or decision-makers to analyse their particular situation and deal with it accordingly.
This is important when it comes to crafting policies pertaining to education, health and sport development.
In terms of public health, a good number of adults (those aged 30 years and above) are suffering from various non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiac complications, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
The primary reason for this escalation of NCDs, especially in Southern Africa, is the increasingly inactive and sedentary lifestyles that people have been adopting over the years. In 10 to 20 years, these NCDs will create serious burdens on the public health systems and budgets of the various SADC countries.
These lifestyles, which include smoking, will, in the long run, also pose serious challenges to the overall health and productivity of the work-force in the region, thereby hindering economic development.
In this connection, the promotion of physical education and sport from primary schools right up to tertiary institutions is actually a solid investment in the future of SADC rather than a waste of money. Looking at the population structure, there is a compelling and dire need to promote life-long engagement in physical recreation and sport in order to reduce incidences of NCDs amongst the population.
The development and promotion of physical recreation and sport is something that is always swept under the carpet by the economic planners at SADC and other development partners. It is always deemed a luxury or an afterthought. Most public (government) schools in Southern Africa do not have gymnasium halls, showers, swimming pools, adequate playgrounds and facilities.
This is quite scandalous, especially when one considers vast amounts of money spent on the security forces, arms and ammunition when most countries in the region are not at war with anyone.
The esteemed economic planners and advisers for the various governments forget that all the grandiose investments in development infrastructure will come to zero if there is no healthy and productive workforce to drive or manage them.
Southern Africa needs an energetic, fit, healthy and highly productive labour force if the development potential of the region is to be realised. It is not something that can be wished away or negotiated in a piece-meal arrangement. It is either you have it or you do not.
This brings us back to the issue of the population structure and the youthful nature of the Southern African nations.
It, therefore, becomes an advantage to catch them while they are still young to ensure that they are adequately educated and equipped with life-skills in order to cope with the dynamic and competitive environment of the global economy. Sport helps to orientate the youth to be better and healthier citizens, who can best serve the developmental needs of their countries in all aspects.
In addition, when it comes to gender equity and empowerment of women and girls in Southern Africa, sport can play a critical role in mobilising them to take up their rightful place as equals to men and boys. Sport can help to level the playing field in many aspects of life for both men and women.
It is evident that although young people might be uneducated or inexperienced in some aspects of life, they remain a huge asset to the Southern African nations.
Their well-being in terms of the development of sport and physical recreation should be planned for in a meticulous way and resources availed accordingly.
Those that are exceptionally talented will proceed to become sports professionals and those that are not will continue to be engaged in sport and physical recreation for enjoyment and health.
There is, therefore, a critical need to get the majority of the youth engaged in sport and physical recreation, as there are tangible and direct benefits that accrue to society.
In addition, it has been proven that young people who actively engage in sport are less likely to be juvenile delinquents and criminals. Sport teaches respect for authority and opponents alike as without adherence to set rules and regulations, we cannot have fair or meaningful competition.
The onus is, therefore, on the regional sports authorities to vigorously advocate and lobby in order to make a strong case for investment in sport and recreation throughout Southern Africa.
In conclusion, the youth are a vital force, not just for mass sport development or excellence in sport but for the economic development, protection and very survival of Southern African nations.
The sooner this is realised, the better. Some economic and financial planners tend to immerse themselves in and promote their social and development models and theories.
Usually, in these models, sport is relegated into obscurity to the detriment of total development of these nations.
It is also time for them to be innovative and think outside the box!