Laureus Sporting Legends Back Sport For Good Mental Health
Mental Health is not a new phenomenon. It has been affecting people all around the world since the human race began. However, it is only in recent years that we have even acknowledged its existence, let alone started to look at ways to tackle its devastating impact – an impact that has multiplied many times over as a result of the global pandemic. In the midst of the last 12 months of upheaval, young people have emerged as those that are suffering the most.
The Laureus Sport for Good Mental Health and Wellbeing Through Sport Regional Forum, which took place across 3 days in the first week of December, was created to provide a platform for discussion and shared experience on the role sport can play in tackling mental health. Thanks to the support and partnership of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and the Hong Kong Elite Athletes Association, the event covered both global themes and localised delivery providing a fascinating insight as to where we currently stand in the fight against mental health.
From the 3 days of presentations and panel sessions, we heard from a variety of different stakeholders involved in the fight against mental health from corporate organisations to local programmes. These organisations were joined by a roster of top sport stars from Laureus global legends including Edwin Moses, Li Xiaopeng, and Cameron van der Burgh to Laureus Hong Kong Ambassadors such as Lee Lai Shan and Yvette Kong – all sharing their inspirational personal stories of the role mental health played in their lives.
Three core themes emerged from the varied discussions.
Firstly, the importance of turning awareness into understanding. Whilst significant strides have been made in raising awareness of the stigma of mental health, very few young people understand where it comes from, what it actually means, and consequently how to tackle its symptoms. This understanding needs to exist not just among the young beneficiaries of sport for development programmes but also amongst the coaches and session co-ordinators.
Secondly, that in order to generate more support and widespread use of sport as a tool to tackle mental health that we need more data and evidence of the positive impact it can have. We need to be able to demonstrate in real terms the powerful influence sport can have in alleviating the suffering of young people from a mental health perspective.
The case study presented at the Forum by the EACT Jockey Club on its Active School Programme provides a good example of this kind of evidential data tracking with a variety of mental health metrics improving across the board for the 90,000 student participants who have benefited from the programme which is now active in 20% of the total number of schools in Hong Kong.
Further afield, a study of the positive impact of the Laureus-funded Waves for Change surfing programme in South Africa showed similarly positive changes across all the mental health measurements from improved self-esteem to increased attention spans.
Third and finally, that the best way to fight mental health is to collaborate, both on a local and global level. As a team exercise, collaboration sits at the heart of sport as one of its unique values. We need to use this strength to its full potential, learning from each other and coming together to deliver even greater impact.
For its part, through the unique structure of its business, Laureus Sport for Good will continue to build on the themes discussed at the Forum and use the power of sport to give children and young people the opportunities and abilities to improve their lives and impact their communities. Now active in over 40 countries, Laureus Sport for Good provides funding and support for more than 234 sport for development organisations using sport to tackle a variety of social issues, mental health amongst them.
2020 has been a devastating year for everyone. The Covid-19 virus has had a catastrophic impact on all walks of life but perhaps most tellingly on the long-term effect on the mental health of the next generation. Sport has a major role to play in the global recovery of young people but only if the full potential of its unique power is unlocked.
The Forum ended with its featured Laureus Olympic legends uniting behind a single message: that the mental health legacy of Covid-19 must be addressed. Thanks to the support of everyone involved, the event itself was a significant springboard towards achieving this goal.