A shift from “sports” to “health”

An interview with Philippe De Witte, Coordinator, Active Local Europe

We have asked Philippe De Witte from Active Local Europe to share best practices and tips on how cities can encourage their citizens to be physically active.

Active Local Europe is a Smart Cities & Sport partner. Partnering with other networks is one of the ways that we continue developing our expertise in specific fields so that we can then share it its network!

Active Local Europe is a ‘learning by doing’ network of cities and municipalities focused on sport and movement. Their vision is to support cities in ensuring their citizens are happy and healthy and have a feeling of belonging to the community.

A disconnect between health and sports

Cities seeking to encourage their citizens to be more active must acknowledge the gap between health and sport.

“We have long thought that, we cities, by creating opportunities for citizens to be active in sports arenas, whether outdoor or indoor, for which as cities we pay a lot of money, people would be triggered to do sport” says Philippe de Witte.

However, numbers show that EU citizens are increasingly practising sport independently of sports clubs.

An evolution from ‘we are a city with sport opportunities and sport events’, to the holistic: ‘we are an active city, a vital city’

Over 80% of the costs of sports infrastructures are paid for by local authorities – meaning the tax money of the local citizens. To ensure resources are used efficiently and reach a maximum of citizens, many cities are changing their policy from a focus on ‘sports clubs’ and ‘sports facilities’ to a much broader offering for citizen activity.

In this context, it is sometimes difficult to offer sport a new place in city policy: should sport remain a separate policy area, or is it a sub-category of health and well-being? Or should the mayor be directly responsible as it intersects with so many areas: mobility, parks, clubs, schools, welfare, health, social cohesion and more?

The COVID-19 pandemic will not necessarily lead to major innovations enabling cities to achieve their health goals, but it will accelerate the trend towards autonomous sport

After a round of 14 meetings with sport representatives and with delegates from the national associations of cities and municipalities of all 27 EU Member States, most have stated that the pandemic has not and will not lead to major innovations.

However, most of the representatives interviewed foresee the innovations which were initiated prior to the pandemic, being accelerated.

In addition, these representatives stated that during the pandemic there was a decrease in the activity of sports club members, but an increase in the activity of citizens who were inactive or less active before the pandemic, or who were not club affiliated.

Cities can support sports clubs in changing their culture from “sports” to “health”

An increasing number of cities would like to encourage sports clubs to take the next step. This means a move outside of the bubble of the sports infrastructure in which they operate, and additionally, to offer opportunities outside of their own infrastructure.

Cities also aim to support sports clubs in evolving towards a culture that is much more focused on the health of citizens and less on competition. Sports clubs need to realise that sport is secondary to improving health:  physical, mental and social.

“If your read the essays from Pierre De Coubertin (dated 140 years ago!), you will read that the major reason why he was determined to revive the Olympic Games, was that he, as a Frenchman, found that the health of the French youngsters was less robust than the English and German fellows” says Philippe de Witte.

To know more about Active Local Europe and their initiatives: https://activelocaleurope.eu/