Beyond Olympic Gold

IN JULY THIS year, the Government of the Republic of Ireland revealed its 2018 – 2027 National Sports Policy — an 11-chapter document outlining some 57 “action items” which included funneling up to €220 million (P13.1 billion) for sports programs and facilities by 2027, from €112 million (P6.67 billion) in 2018.

Among the avowed objectives was to train more “high- performing” athletes, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics clearly in mind. But beyond that, it appears the foremost goal of Ireland’s National Sports Policy is to get more of their population into sports. Specifically, the Irish government wanted to raise their overall participation rate in sports and physical activity to 50 percent in ten years’ time from 43 percent this year (which is the equivalent of getting over a quarter of a million extra people to be more active).

In launching the policy, Irish Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross said, “The benefits of sport and physical activity to physical and mental health are well-proven.  An estimated €1.5 billion cost to [Ireland’s] annual health budget due to physical inactivity indicates the scale of financial benefit to be gained.”

A recent study published at the Irish Journal of Medical Science underscores Mr. Ross’ claims, citing that in Ireland physical inactivity is responsible for nine percent of cases coronary heart disease; 11 percent of type 2 diabetes; 15 percent of breast cancer; and 16 percent of colon cancer.  The same study also found that those who performed no physical activity whatsoever were three times more likely to report negative mental health.

Ireland stands as a clear example of why pursuing a national sports development policy is akin to rolling out preventive healthcare interventions.  Having the state invest more into sports can definitely accrue to societal benefits beyond fulfilling a nation’s Olympic-medal dreams.

This is why the proposed P3.5-billion Philippine Sports Training Center (PSTC) — the law for which was recently approved in a bicameral conference of Congress — should be viewed as more than an attempt at attaining international sports glory.

To be clear though, there is nothing frivolous about the Philippines going for Olympic gold.  There are palpable benefits and inspirational effects if our countrymen see more of their athletes emerging victorious on the world stage.  One just needs to recall how the entire nation cheers when now Senator Manny Pacquiao squares off with his opponents in the boxing ring. Or when our weightlifting angel, Hidilyn Diaz broke our decades-long Olympic medal drought in 2016.

But while the completion of the PSTC marks a decisive step in making available world-class training facilities to our national athletes, it should also be seen as a beacon of hope and inspiration around which a culture of sports and physical activity can be reinvigorated and be spread across the population.

By helping our national athletes pursue a higher standard of performance, we also enhance their capacity to inspire and pull other Filipinos into the same whole-hearted frenzy towards physical health.

This is vital, as studies point to the need for more Filipinos to be more physically active. For instance, a 2017 Stanford University survey of 111 countries determined that Filipinos on average were the fourth most lethargic or physically inactive people in the world, walking only 4,008 steps or 4.6 kilometers a day.

In 2014, the Philippine Association for the Study of Overweight and Obesity, Inc (PASOO) reported that 3 out of 10 Filipino adults 20 years old and above were either overweight or obese, due in part to a sedentary lifestyle.

Recently, the Department of Health (DOH) said that out of every three Filipinos, one dies before the age of 70 due to a non-communicable disease (NCD) — many of which could have been prevented with a healthy, active lifestyle.

Of course, the PSTC is just one step — albeit a very significant one — in a host of many others that need to be taken so that Filipinos are driven to more active lives. And while it will hopefully produce more Filipino sports hall-of-famers and winners, our support for its completion goes beyond our attempts at winning Olympic gold.

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Sen. Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. (Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara/PN)

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