PE and Sport Research- The Challenge for Southern Africa
The concept of “Mass Sport” or “Sport for All” is a brilliant and noble one. It presupposes a situation where sport and physical recreation activities are available to all and sundry within the communities and nations at large. There is obviously need for research to determine that Southern Africans are now leading increasingly sedentary lives. As usual, scientists will require evidence to validate the obvious! That is their job.
The dearth of empirical evidence in the region underpinning the effectiveness of sport and physical recreation as medical interventions has contributed to poor budget allocations at a time when, more than ever before, they should be at the forefront of public health delivery. More than ever before, people of all ages in Southern Africa are becoming increasingly obese.
Television, the “Play Station” culture and computer –based games have literally taken over in urban areas and slowly creeping into rural areas. People are no longer exercising their bodies as they used do in the past. Children are no longer playing, running and jumping as they used to do in the past. In short, there is a looming public health crisis for Southern Africa whereby non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cardiac complications and hypertension are soon going to overtake HIV/AIDS as major causes of death amongst the people.
The concept of sport for all or mass sport is therefore a welcome tonic. It is the most economical way of addressing the majority of health challenges.
The promotion of sport for all can save billions of dollars for Southern African governments in expenditure on public health. It will free up much-needed funds that can be utilized for investment into other productive areas to stimulate economic growth, employment creation and prosperity.
It is therefore the responsibility of physical education and sport researchers to engage economists and accountants for cross-cutting investigations and research to prove these issues beyond reasonable doubt.
“Prevention is better than cure”. Ministries of health should team up with other stakeholders to actively promote projects and programmes designed to reduce incidences of hypertension, obesity and cardiac complications caused largely by poor diet and lack of exercise. When one looks at the aviation industry, for example, no effort is spared in working to save lives. Imagine planes full of people crashing into airports in Southern Africa everyday with no survivors. Airport managers, Ministers of Transport, IATA and Heads of States would be up in arms. Invariably, some would lose their jobs. There would be huge investments to train and produce better pilots and air traffic controllers. Safety and airworthiness checks on aircraft would be more stringent.
State of the art equipment would be procured at huge cost to the taxpayers just to save the aviation industry. The reason why the same seriousness is not being accorded to the promotion of sport for all or mass sport is limited research and dissemination of relevant information to all stakeholders.
Lots of people are dying and will die in future if there are no concerted efforts to educate people about the need to exercise their bodies and maintain reasonable body weight.
All the grandiose national and regional development plans will come to nothing if there are no fit and healthy men and women to drive them. Engagement in sport and physical recreation has never been more crucial for Southern Africa than it is today. Formation of community and work-place fitness clubs should be actively encouraged. Regular open days and festivals should be organized with emphasis on the total wellness and well-being of all citizens, regardless of age, gender, physical ability or socio-economic background.
The promotion of sport for all is not much of a choice really. It is not a luxury. It is an imperative for governments and even companies that have the interests of their citizens and workers at heart. It is more like aviation safety. You cannot compromise on standards and expect to survive. The common denominator here is the safety and health of individuals. Whether they die silently in a secluded hospital beds somewhere or with a large bang in a large explosion of flames is neither here nor there.
The most important consideration is that people are dying and will die of preventable NCDs. Before they die, they will have drained public coffers due to the colossal amounts of money needed for medications and palliative care in hospitals, clinics and homes. The time to embrace active and healthy lifestyles is now. Exercise for health! This is a message that should be embraced by both the young and the old. There is definitely need for more research into physical education and sport as well widespread publication of accumulated evidence and results. It is not about winning medals but it is a question of survival as individuals, communities and nations!