Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Should we 'denormalise' sport?

We’re told – rightly so I believe – that taking part in sport and exercise is good for us. However, in the spirit of understanding and, with a wry couch potato smile, I thought I’d have a look at the problems with exercise.

Back in 2005 a survey was done for “Spaces for Sports” looking at the incidence of sports injury.

New research by Barclays Spaces for Sports has revealed that just under a third (30 per cent) of the nation pick up 22 million sporting injuries per year.  The major causes of these injuries are over-exertion, lack of preparation and general clumsiness, with third party involvement and slippery surfaces also blamed. On average a person regularly participating in sport will pick up 1.65 injuries every year and will take up to five days off work or college due to incapacity and/or treatment.

Stop for a second and calculate the cost to business of all those sprained ankles, broken collar bones and ruptured Achilles tendons. Consider, if you will, the burden these selfish people are placing on our National Health Service – over a quarter of a million emergency admissions every year. Our accident and emergency departments are, quite literally, clogged with sports men and women and their injuries.

Yet we never read of the dreadful burden all this indulgence brings upon society, there are no campaigns to ban rugby or football, to stop people doing lasting damage to knees and hips by running on hard roads. Indeed we praise those super-fit individuals for their dedication, their healthy lifestyle and their sporting prowess.

Contrast this with the new assault on the couch potato – following on from attacking smoking, drinking and the humble burger, we must now condemn TV:

Dr Lennert Veerman, from the School of Population Health at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, and colleagues report their findings today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

"If our estimates are correct, then TV viewing is in the same league as smoking and obesity," he said.

Last year, another Australian study by Professor David Dunstan and colleagues from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne found an hour of TV viewing a day led to an 8 per cent increase in the risk of premature death.

Oh dear. Not that I believe a word of this – seems like an exercise in conflating all sorts of behavioural traits and then adding a cute bit of arithmetic to get an ace headline.  TV is bad – is killing us.

The point here is that the argument – or one of them – for introducing bans, pricing controls and other nannying nudges is that these sinful behaviours cost society loads of money. We’re forever being regaled with the cost of drinking or smoking or obesity. Yet it seems to me that, for all its goodness, sport and exercise is a huge cost to society in lost work time, in treating injury and in caring for the long-term consequence of sporting injury and strain.

Maybe, for the sake of consistency, we should tax, ban or nudge sport as well – starting with the really dangerous sports such as riding horses or playing rugby and then moving to protect people playing football. More padding, less physical contact, short game time, a smaller pitch and a softer ball – these things will protect those playing and will reduce the cost to society of sports injury.

Just a thought!


1 comment:

Frank Davis said...

Malcolm McDonald - aka SuperMac - once remarked on radio that 50% of footballers retire with premature arthritis. He said he couldn't play golf any more due to his own arthritis.

If what he said has any truth to it, then there aren't just the occasional injuries which land footballers in hospital, but long term disabilities for people who are only aged about 30 when they leave the sport.

But hey, never mind all that. Sport is 'healthy'. People running and jumping is the very definition of health. And the more they do it, the healthier they are.