The power of play

South Africans may be raising the most sedentary generation of children yet. Too many ­children do not participate in sport and often do not have access to sports facilities.

This lack of physical activity is leading to a number of health problems.

Corporate Award-winner Supersport encourages youngsters to be active through its corporate social investment (CSI) programme, Let’s Play. This programme is a finalist in the Sports Development Award.

Vaughn Bishop, manager of CSI at SuperSport International, says inactive children are not a problem unique to South Africa; the rest of the world is also struggling with the issue.

“In the United States obesity is the biggest killer and South Africa is following closely in American, British and Australian footsteps in terms of being overweight. Statistics indicate that one in four children is overweight. “If we do not address this issue now, we are going to have a serious problem in five to 10 years time.”

He says Let’s Play has a two-pronged approach: raising awareness of the problem and doing something about it by getting youth on to the fields.

Supersport has rallied support from government to partner existing programmes. This includes endorsements from the departments of sport and recreation, education and health.

In addition the sports channel has managed to get other partners involved, including various government organisations and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

“Unicef took notice of what we are doing in South Africa and decided it wanted to be involved … It channelled the support of the Department of Education and there is now recognition of the ­synergy between sport and education and the benefits that sport offers to children,” Bishop says.

Let’s Play targets schools with the highest prevalence of crime, showing children that sport can change their lives. “Sport can make a difference in their academic lives and get them away from the negative influences in their environment,” Bishop says.

The target is children aged between six and 12. There are about 12-million children in this group.

Let’s Play aims to raise awareness of the benefits of sport to children and Supersport has joined other media partners to reach a broader audience. “Through this media network we are able to reach a large percentage of our audience,” Bishop says.

When it comes to encouraging children to be active, Supersport realised that it had to rely on the expertise of others to facilitate sport at the schools.

Through an accreditation process Supersport has brought on board 27 activation partners, which boast the expertise of 600 coaches. “During their facilitation process, the coaches are positioned as activation advocates.

“They are active daily, including weekends, and they move around between the schools to spread the benefits as widely as possible.

“As part of the activation process we offer exposure and networking opportunities to programmes and services that promote, support and facilitate the participation of children in exercise and sport. “Through that process we activate about 250 000 a week. Some [are] repeat customers but in a lot of cases it is children who are new to Let’s Play … The children are coached in a variety of sports.”

He says Let’s Play is also involved in the department of education’s mass participation project, Sport for Development, which is linked to the Let’s Play a Million. As part of this initiative thousands of soccer balls are distributed to children, many of whom have not owned a soccer ball in their lives. Coaches are placed in crime-plagued schools to facilitate the department’s programme.

“We will also use this initiative to spread the gospel of hope, upliftment, positivity and growth across South Africa, through the voices of our children, those who will benefit most by the campaign,” Bishop says.

So far Let’s Play has distributed 100 000 balls and it has set itself a target of a million by 2010.

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Andrew Gillingham
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