Oscar Byman: Exercise crucial to student wellbeing

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Oscar Byman, candidate for RKP in Helsinki, blogs about the municipal elections.

Sport has always been a big part of my life. When I was young, I was fortunate to have a variety of hobbies – different sports, different clubs, different communities, and all the time meeting new people. Sport has given me healthy life habits, friends for life and a way to relax and relieve stress.

Sport promotes physical, mental and social wellbeing, builds team spirit and offers meaningful activities. I believe that the easier it is made to exercise and to start doing sports, the more people will actually do so. I want to help people to have equal opportunities to do sports and fall in love with it, just like I did.

Starting your studies in a new place is always exciting. For me, it meant moving to Helsinki and leaving my friends and communities behind. I had always been keen on team sports, mainly football, and I was nervous about finding a suitable team where it could continue playing. I needn’t have worried. During my freshman autumn, I joined the sports department of my student union (SHS) – and created a social foundation for gradually getting new friends. And indeed, many of the people I did sports with during my freshman year are still some of my closest friends.

Based on my personal experience, I consider it extremely important that those who make decisions about sports matters in Helsinki realise how crucial student sports organisations are.

Decision-makers should proactively seek ways to support such student organisations, often run by volunteers – even if they may seem a bit more informal. The closer we bring sports and exercise to students, the more of them will take to them and adopt an active lifestyle. You learn about many new things during your studies, and the more students can be attracted to doing sports, the less we will have health issues related to sedentary lifestyles in the long run, not to mention the costs in the form of dealing with health problems. The biggest challenge by far in any sports policy is to get the less active element moving. With students, the power and encouragement from fellow students are important drivers.

Students have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic already for 18 months. Students’ mental health problems have spiked to a heartbreaking degree, and loneliness after long days spent in your bedsit is growing at an alarming rate. Now if ever is the time that decision-makers should support students’ sports activities and community spirit. So which student sport activities should be supported?

The key issues raised by the Finnish Student Sports Federation (OLL) are important, and I fully stand by them, as I was privileged to help formulate them as a representative of SHS, my student union. By developing city bike services and making them affordable to students, we can offer students healthy daily exercise and climate-friendly mobility. By providing sports facilities near campuses and students accommodation, we lower the threshold for doing sports and facilitate student organisations’ training sessions. By prioritising student sports when allocating fields and facilities and by offering reduced prices, we make it easier for students to get exercise. The key is to make doing sports as easy as possible.

People should have the opportunity to experience natural environments also in urban surroundings. Photo taken on Lake Päijänne during a 600-km paddling trip with a friend along Finnish waterways, from Pihtipudas to the Gulf of Finland.

However, it often boils down to the resources. I think we should allocate sufficient resources for sports, because in the end it will help to reduce health care expenses. Preventive measures are the way to go both from a human and financial viewpoint. But we must ensure that the resources are used as wisely as possible. Coordination is in my view the best way to allocate resources.

Based on my experiences during the past five years, I would say that student sports in Helsinki is suffering from poor coordination. The field is rather fragmented. There are many good student sports organisations doing valuable work to arrange sports opportunities for students. The role of student organisations is crucial. However, they work independently, and currently there is no proper and continuous dialogue between them. My experiences may stem from not having been active enough personally, but that cannot be the whole picture. When I’ve discussed this matter with various people dealing with student sports, many have shared my views.

That’s why I suggested in OLL’s municipal election panel on 12 May that a new cooperation network should be established in Helsinki to promote student sports.

This network would be represented by an array of student sports actors. Student unions (of universities and secondary education) should be represented, and also higher education sports actors and the wellbeing staff of universities of applied sciences. We could also invite clubs, businesses and student lobbying organisations. However, they greatest contribution comes from representatives of the City of Helsinki’s Sports Services, and other sports decision-makers. Helsinki offers good sports services, but I believe that listening more to students, we can make even better use of the resources to promote student wellbeing.

The network could meet a couple of times a year, and I’m sure there are student organisations that are willing to arrange the meeting. If I am elected to the council or receive an opportunity through the election to promote sports issues, I am committed to working in a network of this kind.

Of course the network in itself will solve nothing. It doesn’t mean that sports or student wellbeing should not be invested in in other ways. A network where people just wave their hands but achieve nothing is no use to anyone. However, good coordination is a requirement for efficient action. If we want to make exercise a part of the solution for student wellbeing, we should work together to promote it.

Oscar Byman

The author is a 25-year-old RKP municipal candidate in Helsinki. Oscar studies economics at Hanken and is a long-standing student influencer. Economy, sustainable development and sport are important themes.

PS: For more about sports in Helsinki, see my football video in Instagram at @oscarerik_.

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