Invictus has lessons for us all

PATRICK WALKER, CEO AUSTRALIAN SPORTS FOUNDATION

From 20 - 27 October 2018, Australians were privileged to play host to the Invictus Games, and my congratulations go to Games CEO Patrick Kidd and his team for putting on such a wonderful event. Those who were lucky enough to attend the Games, or to watch the fantastic ABC coverage, were left in no doubt as to the power of sport to heal, inspire, rehabilitate and nurture our wounded, sick or injured veterans.

However, the Invictus Games also showed us that the power of sport to benefit individuals and communities goes way beyond our wounded veterans. That same power to nurture, inspire and provide a sense of community applies to everyone – not only those who have been physically or mentally traumatised by the horrors of war.

Many Australians can benefit from such an initiative: the overweight teenager, who sits in their bedroom playing computer games and laying the platform for a future dogged by ill-health; the young girl battling issues of body-image and low self-esteem; the older Australian, growing less active and facing declining quality of life; new arrivals to Australia, struggling to integrate and in danger of becoming isolated and marginalised; our first Australians; young parents needing to reconnect with their lives before raising children; Australians in rural communities battling population decline and drought; or those living in our inner cities, struggling on the seemingly endless treadmill of “eat, sleep, work, repeat” and needing physical and mental release.

We all probably know people who fit into one of these categories.

All of us can benefit from sport and physical activity as a way of improving our health and wellbeing. As Invictus showed, sport improves physical health and has a profoundly positive impact on mental health. This comes not only from the endorphins released through exercise – but the importance of being part of a team or community.

For those Invictus athletes, the Games gave a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, and a group of like-minded people to share and engage with. Every local sports club – no matter how humble and no matter the sport – can provide that same sense of community and belonging, that same sense of shared purpose and, of course, the physical and mental health benefits of a healthy active lifestyle.

It is for these reasons that the Australian Sports Foundation is using its forthcoming Prime Ministers’ Sporting Oration to shine a light on the importance of grassroots sport to our nation.

We want the event to raise funds to help get more Australians more active more often. We want to particularly use funds to help those Australians who may otherwise miss out on sport to have an equal opportunity to get active.

This means targeting programs to help women and girls (who participate in organised sport at around half the rate of men and boys) and some of our culturally diverse and socially disadvantaged groups.

We also want to focus on getting our kids more active; this is the first generation that will be slower and less fit than its parents, the first generation that will be more obese, and, incredibly, the first generation that may end up having a lower life expectancy than its parents.

The Oration will be about more than just raising funds on the night to achieve these worthy social aims. With the help of our sponsors and partners, we aim to start a movement where the importance of a healthy, active life is recognised, and where the role of sport at the heart of every Australian community – indeed, embedded in our national DNA – is celebrated.

With the help of corporate and philanthropic Australia – and with support from Governments – we can reverse the decline in sports participation and physical activity, as well as the alarming rise in obesity, and help build a healthier and more cohesive nation.

CommentaryAnna Poulos