THE BLOG
28/08/2012 08:09 BST | Updated 24/10/2012 06:12 BST

How Sport Can Save the Young, the Old and the Rest of Us

Since the end of the Games it seems everyone in the country has given their view on the impact of the Olympics on the UK. That is perfectly reasonable - the cost and commitment of hosting a modern Olympic it should be a cause for mass engagement.

Since the end of the Games it seems everyone in the country has given their view on the impact of the Olympics on the UK. That is perfectly reasonable - the cost and commitment of hosting a modern Olympic it should be a cause for mass engagement. And unlike many global issues, from European debt and the banking crisis to the current situation in Syria, everyone can speak from experience. After all, we have all encountered sport in one form or another.

That last point is an important one. Not everyone enjoys a good sporting journey at school - at its worst it can be rife with bullying, humiliation and abuse. But even at its most average it improves physical and mental health, and at its best it can transform lives.

The school playing fields situations currently in the headlines is almost outdated. To discuss whether it's good to have sports facilities available to schools is similar to debating whether feeding our kids buckets of fast food is a good or bad thing. What is more vital is making sure the right people are in place - and solving a major problem for our ageing population at the same time.

The greatest crisis facing humanity according to the World Economic Forum is Chronic Disease - heart disease, cancer and diabetes. 66% of us will die through Chronic Illness. And, forgive the brutality of this statement, but the problem is not that we are dying as much as that these are costly ways to die.

People are retiring earlier and living longer - and they are costing more to keep alive. It is sending the costs of pensions and healthcare spiralling out of control; we cannot afford it and neither can our children, or their children after that. The historian Neill Ferguson insists that we have already broken the bond between this generation and the next, by overspending and over-borrowing to such a large extent. The demographic time bomb will just be the icing on the cake.

The problem is easy to see. The solution is harder. Tax the hell out of those earning? Slash services considerably? Neither is a palatable option. The only solution is to ensure that people stay healthy for as long as possible. This is where physical education and sport at school have a role to play. Creating a culture of activity starts at a young age, when kids are at their most impressionable. In the same way that gang culture and induction starts at five years old, so can the positive messages of sport and all its benefits.

Making sport a way of life is now a necessity not a choice - because young, fit, sport-centric people are less likely to become costly old people. When you compare the costs of running sport projects - prevention - up against the treatment of heart disease the costs are incomparable. On heart disease alone this country spends well over £30 billion. A well-run sports programme might cost around £30k to run and will touch the lives of hundreds of people.

Even for government these are compelling arguments but the reality is that the electoral system necessary for that slight irritation - democracy - means that government is more interested in the next three years than the next 20 years. Sport is a long-term play where the benefits are not directly attributable and measuring your return on investment is not easy.

So let's focus on a more immediate issue: the growing and costly retired population. We talk so much of sport's effect on young people but by mobilising the semi-retired and retired population into the volunteering system, and helping them to get into the administration of programmes around sport, this will keep them more active and engaged and healthier themselves. In addition, by creating a healthier next generation, you are tackling the issue for the future. Listening to the historians and the economists, it is the very least that we can do to offset the burden we are leaving our children.

Investment in sport is not a cost or burden on society - it is the answer to some of its biggest problems.