Leader comment: Sport changes lives, we need to invest in it

Andy Murray attends a press conference during the ATP Qatar Open tennis competition in Doha after getting a knighthood in the New Year Honours list. Picture: Getty Images
Andy Murray attends a press conference during the ATP Qatar Open tennis competition in Doha after getting a knighthood in the New Year Honours list. Picture: Getty Images
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If any reminder is required of the importance of sport in society, a look at the New Year Honours list and the number of sporting stars it contained, our own Sir Andy Murray among them, would settle any doubt. All those success stories and all those role models for the children of today.

Often now we think of sport as a specatcle – the amazing drama of the Olympics and top flight football matches which attract TV audiences of hundreds of millions. That level of interest enables the footballers at the top to make astronomical sums of money. It is estimated that the London Olympic Games boosted the UK economy by £9.9 billion, and it cost £8.9bn to host, so that is an awful lot of money changing hands.

A report for SportScotland in 2010 said the latest economic data showed that sport continued to have a significant impact on the Scottish economy, and while many sectors were negatively affected by the 2008-9 recession, sport increased its contribution to the total value of the Scottish economy from 1.7 per cent to 1.9 per cent from 2008 to 2010. This equates to an increase in gross value added from £1.7bn in 2008 to £1.9bn in 2010.

It also said that analysis of other sectors in leisure-related industries show that sport’s contribution to the economy is higher than telecoms, and higher than the sum of accommodation, creative arts and publishing put together.

But sport’s biggest impact is not on the economy, it is also on the individual. Participating in sport has so many benefits. At a time of an obesity crisis, sport should play a huge part in tackling this because it helps people get fitter and it burns up calories in a way that can be hugely enjoyable, rather than just pounding along on a treadmill alone. Team sports help to build social and leadership skills.

As well as the obvious physical benefits that activity brings, there are huge benefits to mental health too. The charity Mind has said that sport helps reduce anxiety and stress. It can produce happier moods and clearer thinking, increased self-esteem and reduce the risk of depression.

The secondary benefits to the economy, through less illness, greater productivity and lower medical treatment costs, are also significant. But more importantly, sport can improve the quality of life of just about everyone. There are many sports to choose from and part of the fun is finding the one that excites you, and can engage and bring enjoyment like very few other aspects of life.

Key to this is getting children interested at a young age.

So it is extremely disappointing to discover that more than 1,000 Scottish schools – including 8 per cent of secondaries – have no outdoor sports facilities, according to new figures from SportScotland.

It is accepted that the government has made some progress on PE provision for children, and the Daily Mile is a great idea, but spending money on school sports facilities is of such crucial importance it should always be a special case. The return on that investment is always worth it.