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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Do the Olympics improve the general health of Canadians? A timely but odd question.

On one hand, we are being entertained by some of the world’s greatest athletic endeavours, engaged in by 0.0001% of the global population.  What is the value to the remaining 99.9999%.  For sure, each Olympian likely was the top say 1% of the elite athletes in their country.  That still leaves us 99.99% of the global population looking for the benefits of Olympic preparation.  

The average Olympic competitor is actually in their late 20’s.  Certainly very few sports offer entry opportunities for older athletes, so while there may be an argument for motivating some youth, the Olympics don’t seem to be a good incentive for the general population.

Yet, the distribution of support dollars for athletes continues to favour the elite and discourage recreational participation.  Canada spends about 200M on sport each year, one-third of which is spent on the handful of elite athletes, much of the rest on structures destined to filter to the elite level.     

There was one calculation that the success rate of high school basketball players making a career of longer than five years is about 1 in 100,000.  These are amongst the elite high school basketball players already.  Hence the odds of successfully becoming a world class athlete would appear to be sufficient to discourage more than encourage lifelong physical activity pursuits.  

Most likely the most engaging sport for the next few weeks will be couch surfing – not the healthiest of solutions in stimulating a population to engage in routine physical activity. 

There would be many questions that should be answered about our investment in physical activity for the general population.  At the moment, Canadian eyes, and those of other countries,  are watching the medal count as the measure of success of physical activity program. 

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