by Catriona McAllister, CEO, Jersey Sport
There’s a great quote attributed to Albert Einstein that says: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”, and when it comes to improving the physical and mental health and wellbeing of islanders in Jersey, I believe that the answer has been staring us in the face all along.
There’s a large section of Jersey’s population who actively engage in sports or physical activity on a regular basis, and they are highly aware of the correlation between their personal health benefits and their lifestyle and participation in sports. These people get it! Whether they started playing sport as children or whether they transformed their lifestyle habits as an adult, they’ve chosen to make sport and physical activity a priority and are reaping the rewards.
For the most part, these people have three things in common: they’re able-bodied, they’re not from a minority group and they have adequate disposable income to be able to commit regularly to their active hobbies or competitive sport.
So, why are we ignoring the fact that issues of health and equality could be improved through supporting and encouraging participation in sports and physical activity? Why is this not a lightbulb moment?
What’s the disconnect between everything we know about the benefits of sport, including increased self-worth and confidence and community cohesion, and investment in the outcomes that can be derived.
At Jersey Sport, we understand that having a disability, being from a low socioeconomic group or an ethnic minority directly correlates with being less likely to play sport. As a sports organisation, we love to champion the incredible sport available on this island, as well as supporting sports clubs to improve or expand their services. Moving forward, we want to put an emphasis on how we address these inequalities and why that matters in terms of mental and physical health benefits.
Our Strategic Plan 2023-26 focuses on three main pillars: Sports Development, School Programmes and Community Engagement, with a clearly defined vision and outcomes for each.
Arguably, the people who would most benefit from regular participation in sport and physical activity are those who are currently the least active and who are, in many cases, from those disadvantaged sectors of society. According to the Mental Health Foundation (mentalhealth.org.uk): ‘A growing body of evidence, mainly from high-income countries, has shown that there is a strong socioeconomic gradient in mental health, with people of lower socioeconomic status having a higher likelihood of developing and experiencing mental health problems.’
If this is the case, then why aren’t we as an island focusing our efforts on making sure that those who are most vulnerable have access to opportunities in a fair and equitable way?
We have an amazing system of sport for the majority, and that’s great, but we need to do more. From our own work in Jersey since 2017, we know that we can make a significant difference in schools, and we will continue to uphold our commitment to sports clubs and organisations to support them in delivering a wide range of services and facilities to the island. But, in addition, we want to create a huge impact in community engagement, ensuring sports and physical activities are more inclusive and encourage people from all genders, backgrounds and abilities to participate.
We’ve seen the amazing positive impact of high-profile women’s sport – like the Lionesses’ UEFA Euro 2022 final victory over Germany in July – but there needs to be a cultural shift away from women’s sport being perceived in certain disciplines as ‘masculine’ or ‘unfeminine’. We want every woman to feel comfortable and enthusiastic about playing sport – whether that’s a competitive, team sport or individual activities such as running, cycling or swimming.
With 67% of adults saying that they would like to do more sport and physical activity, if only they had more free time, more disposable income and someone to exercise with (Sport and Physical Activity in Jersey Survey), now is the time to create equal sport and physical activity opportunities for everyone in Jersey. Increasing participation comes with a multitude of personal health benefits as well as a future economic benefit to Jersey’s health system and individual households.
As we begin the new year, we at Jersey Sport have a clear vision, a defined purpose and a deep-rooted desire to create significant and meaningful change to ensure that the physical and mental health benefits of sport are available to everyone and that sports clubs and organisations are supported in their goals to deliver an inclusive offering of a wide range of sports and activities.
Let’s make 2023 the year that you start playing sport, supporting sport as a volunteer or undertaking a training programme to deliver sport or physical activity in Jersey – so that together, we can become a world leader in delivering fair and equitable opportunities for all.
This article was originally published in the Jersey Evening Post on 14 January 2023.