Caricom should make use of that IDB report on sport spending

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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A new report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) showing that Latin America and the Caribbean are lagging in spending on sports makes very interesting reading.

One aspect of that report that caught our attention is the IDB's conclusion that the region could get a development boost from sports activities that improve social and health benefits.

According to the report, preliminary analysis of fiscal budgets of 17 countries shows that spending on sports averages around 0.1 per cent of gross domestic product. The IDB also tells us that Latin American and Caribbean governments' spending on sports is about one-third of the percentage spent by European nations, without considering special programmes for elite athletes or Olympic financing.

The report said that while the region produces first-rate athletes in numerous professional sports, exercise is a marginal activity. It also pointed to data showing that one out of three adults in the region qualifies as physically inactive, compared to the global average of one in four defined as participating in less than 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

This lack of activity, the IDB noted, is pervasive in all demographic groups, “but it is even more worrisome among school-going adolescents between the ages of 11 and 17, with almost nine out of 10 adolescents not achieving the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily”.

Commenting on the report, IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno is reported as saying it “shows our region needs to spend more on sports, not just to produce better athletes, but also to foster happier, less violent and healthier societies. To gain the social benefits, we also need to design better sports programmes and rigorously evaluate those that already exist”.

The IDB, though, issued a note of caution, saying the programmes must be “properly designed and monitored”. That, we believe, is a sensible approach to what is definitely a growing problem of obesity in the Caribbean in particular.

A Food and Agriculture Organization report last year stated that close to 360 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean are overweight, with the highest rates observed in The Bahamas (69 per cent), Mexico (64 per cent), and Chile (63 per cent).

Just two months ago, this newspaper reported University of Technology, Jamaica Professor of Public Health and Nutrition Fitzroy Henry as saying that obesity rates among adults in Jamaica have increased by one per cent, each year, since 2002.

According to Professor Henry, who chairs the Ministry of Health's National Food Industry Task Force, obesity rates among adults moved from 45 per cent in 2002 to 54 per cent in 2008, and 60 per cent in 2016.

The IDB report proposes that sports can build human capital and enhance productivity by improving physical and mental health, discouraging substance abuse, and inspiring athletic as well as academic achievement.

“Sports can encourage capital accumulation, facilitate the workings of markets, and strengthen institutions through their effect on social capital, trust and culture, and crime,” the report added.

Mr Moreno has suggested that the imminent World Cup football season provides “a good time to celebrate the benefits of sports”.

His argument, of course, makes sense and is something that Caricom leaders could start discussing now with the intention of further examination when they next meet in Montego Bay in July.

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