Why is sport important in schools

Sport in school is important, but that's not enough

In the guest commentary, Markus Redl calls for a broad debate on how we can achieve a culture of being in motion for a lifetime and doing sports.

In a press conference, Minister of Education Heinz Faßmann recently stated that he knows better than all the sports officials and teachers who wanted to convince him to resume the subject of "exercise and sports" in compliance with the applicable rules of conduct. From his own experience it is clear to him that keeping your distance is not feasible when practicing sports like basketball. But what no one has said, there are countless other ways of adapting the content and framework of physical education to epidemiological requirements.

Faßmann no longer understands the world: Former association presidents and resigned politicians call out to him in the media how the school should be managed in the infectiously sensitive issue of joint sport through the greatest health crisis in living memory. When, understandably, he wants to finish the rest of the school year without new infections. Sharp criticism from the organized sport of the associations and clubs, which, however, is acting rather cautiously in view of Covid-19 - and for decades has not been able to convert the expansion of state sports funding into measurably higher sports activity of the population.

The minister must have considered the decision to be too risky to hand over the decision as to whether and, if so, how "exercise and sport" should be on the timetable for the individual schools. School autonomy initially seemed to be undermined on this point: classes should be optional from June 15 and at least in the afternoon. Three days after the press conference, a joint press release with the Sports Union marked the turnaround: "In which sports, group sizes and at which times" sport is practiced, is "of course the responsibility of the schools" Dedicated movement educators who are concerned about the well-being of their students due to the crisis wanted to use the few days of class until the end of school for direct contact. They understandably felt misunderstood and disparaged in their professional role.

Permanent competition

Despite all justified outrage that exercise and sport in school - now visible to all after the lockdown - are often beaten below their value, the underlying problem is even greater: our population moves across the board compared to other highly developed countries Age groups shamefully little. Just a quarter meet the WHO recommendations on physical activity.

Physical education in school is of course particularly strategically important, but is currently far from recommended, healthy exercise times. Even if the daily exercise unit were implemented, children and adolescents should also exercise. So it is of course the responsibility of the families - parents and nowadays also grandparents - to enable their offspring to take part in extracurricular sporting activities: probably as much a question of values ​​as of practical possibilities. The permanent endorphin competition from smartphones, tablets and the like doesn't make it any easier.

The narrative that "school" can fix it for us as a society in matters of exercise and sport is dangerous. Because the generations of parents and grandparents, which are mostly inactive, must not be given up from a public health point of view; they must be addressed equally. The current pandemic even intensifies this necessity, as the degree of our resilience has a decisive influence on our future fate as an economy. Therefore, everyone is challenged: educational institutions (from kindergarten to adult education center) and organized sport as well as municipalities with their infrastructure or companies with their corporate health promotion to commercial providers such as fitness studios.

School, it is clear, cannot solve the problem of inactivity any more than organized sport. The big question is how we - across all milieus - come step by step to a majority culture of being in motion and doing sports for a lifetime. The experts are no longer allowed to keep to themselves. (Markus Redl, June 15, 2020)

Markus Redl is managing director of the Bergbahnen-Beteiligungsgesellschaft des Landes Niederösterreich. Degree in sports science at the University of Vienna, Master in Public Administration (Harvard) as a Fulbright scholarship holder.

On the subject: