By Dr Edwin Moses, Laureus Academy Chairman
Washington, March 20, 2012
I had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion in Washington D.C. today led by US Congressman Mike McIntyre, following the publication of an important US Government report on the state of sport in schools.
Youth sports programmes in the US have been badly hit by budget cuts over the last few years and this report has given us a comprehensive assessment of the situation.
Up2Us, a coalition of 400 youth sports organisations in the US which is financially supported by Laureus, has shown that cuts reached US$1.5 billion for the 2010-2011 school year and an estimated US$2 billion in 2009-2010.
While the report – from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) - shows that schools are doing the best they can with the resources they have, it highlights many deficiencies:
School officials say that budget cuts and inadequate facilities have affected their ability to provide physical education opportunities.
Some schools have had to cope with poor facilities: e.g gymnasia doubling as cafeteria.
Transport, facilities and staffing have been affected by budgetary constraints. Attracting quality coaches has been affected because of low pay.
Schools are often having to rely on outside funding such as booster clubs, gate receipts and leveraging community facilities.
Some schools are even having to charge student fees for sports activities, which may be a barrier for lower income students.
Everyone knows how valuable sport is as a means to help young people: it can give them focus; it can keep them off the streets and out of trouble; and it can address problems such as obesity, high school drop-out rates and gang crime.
The GAO report revealed some alarming figures over the health of many young people. In the US around 12.5 million children between two and 19 are obese. The costs of childhood obesity in the US are estimated at $14.3 billion annually. And childhood obesity can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breathing problems, asthma and diabetes.
At Laureus we firmly believe in the power of sport to improve people’s lives. In the case of fighting obesity, sport can do more – it can help to SAVE lives.
The GAO compiled the report because the US Congress is currently considering proposals aimed at increasing physical activity in young people. That is very good news.
I urge Congress to take serious note of the findings of the report, reverse the budget cuts of recent years and support public/private partnership initiatives, like ourselves, which are trying to involve more young people in sport.
Sport can make a difference. And we have to start making that difference now.