More than 200 professionals from sport, health and community development gathered at the Emirates Stadium for the fourth European Healthy Stadia Conference.
Keynote speakers from across Europe presented the latest research, evidence and best practice on a range of issues, from community health interventions such as walking football and dementia-friendly swimming to creating healthier environments for sports fans, including tobacco control, alcohol sponsorship, catering and active travel.
The Conference was hosted by Arsenal in the Community, and the club’s Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis opened proceedings.
He told ConnectSport TV: “The Conference was about bringing people together from different sports and different environments to talk about how we can use sport and stadiums to deliver healthy outcomes for people.
“Arsenal are looking at how sport can make a difference to people’s health, and that has many different dimensions. We now have 5000 people a week who take part in our programmes, with 360 different sessions every week in 180 different venues and with a wide range of activities – from sport in primary schools to social inclusion and education projects, covering people of all ages and backgrounds, and all physical ability.”
Matthew Philpott, Executive Director of the European Healthy Stadia Network, said: “Sports clubs, federations, associations and league operators are now starting to understand the huge importance and role they can play in terms of helping people’s health and wellbeing, in terms of community interventions, in terms of stadium-based policies and also actually affecting the health of their own staff as well.
“I think this is something which is sharply coming into focus in particular in North and West Europe, possibly over the last 10 years. In particular over the last five years, the evaluation, monitoring and actual measurement of what impact these programmes are starting to have, has started to make commissioners and policy-makers understand the role that sports clubs have in terms of meeting this agenda and improving health outcomes for their nations.”
The 2017 conference, which was supported by UEFA and the World Heart Foundation, marked 10 years of the European Healthy Stadia Network. What began with a handful of clubs and venues across North-West England, is now a fully-fledged European network supported by professional clubs and their community trusts, league operators and both national and international governing bodies.
The Conference also provided a stage for Sport England to highlight their strategy ‘Towards an Active Nation’, published last year. Sarah Ruane, National Strategic Lead for Health and Sport, said: “We want to give people a flavour of the insight which we have gleaned in relation to people who are currently inactive, and to tell people about the funding streams which are now available.”
Jamie Hooper, Health & Wellbeing Manager for Swim England, said the release of the Government’s ‘Sporting Future’ strategy, and the subsequent modification in Sport England’s funding streams, has precipitated a change in approach from National Governing Bodies.
He said: “I think the release of the cross-governmental sports strategy a couple of years ago, which was then backed up by the Sport England strategy, has really helped governing bodies emphasise the need to change the way in which we approach physical activity, and look at it much more as a health and wellbeing approach.
“It’s not just about competing, it’s not all about being the best; it’s about getting off the sofa and trying to be healthy.”
At the Conference, Jamie spoke about Swim England’s Dementia Friendly programme and how facilities need to be retro-fitted and staff upskilled in order to make swimming more inclusive for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Michael Salla, Head of Health & Sport at Everton FC, spoke about the club’s research partnership with Edge Hill University, which helped to create the innovative children’s mental health project ‘Tackling the Blues’.
“In terms of sports clubs, and football clubs especially, there’s been a huge change in direction in terms of helping to improve the health of their local community, but also internationally and on a global level,” said Michael.
“There’s been huge funding cuts within local authorities and health bodies, for example CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups set up to delivery NHS services) and that’s where football clubs can help to fill a void. But also football clubs have that relationship with football fans.
“Football fans who may not typically engage with mainstream population-level approaches will engage with a football club, just because of sheer allegiance and the football brand can help with engagement and recruitment. It can also help with motivating and inspiring people to change their behaviour.”
Sally Wyke, Deputy Director of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow and Principle Investigation for the EuroFIT programme, said: “I think that sports organisations are taking more responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their fans, we have seen some of that presented at this Conference.
“I think we are going to see a great deal more. Why? Well, I don’t think it’s just the social responsibility side; I think they can see that actually looking after their fans means there is going to be a better fanbase in the future.
“There is a change in culture; organisations like Healthy Stadia are very important in changing that culture, and promoting this kind of approach in football clubs and in other sporting organisations.”
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