Toni Ahva: Let's turn the municipal elections into sports elections!

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Toni Ahva, Head of Public Affairs at the Finnish Olympic Committee, blogs about the municipal elections.

The municipal elections offer everyone the opportunity to promote physical exercise and sports. The decision-makers in charge of promoting physical activity at the municipal level are elected to councils in these elections. Promoting physical activity is an important task for the municipality, and in the future, owing to the healthcare and social welfare service reform, sports services will play a greater role in the decision-making of all municipalities.

In fact, one could say that physical exercise is more important to municipalities than generally understood. This can be illustrated by numerous facts, two of which are highlighted in the following.

Figures that every municipal candidate should know about exercise

Firstly, the costs of insufficient exercise per resident amount to more than 550 euros per year. This means that immobility affects the economy of all municipalities in a major way. That is why we need to invest more in exercise: small stakes will help combat enormous costs.

Secondly, in Finland, municipalities finance physical exercise five times more than the central government does, by more than 700 million euros every year. This means that municipalities - and thus municipal decision-makers - have a big responsibility to create opportunities to engage in sports.

These facts illustrate the important relationship between physical activity and municipalities. This is why physical activity must be included in the strategy and welfare plan of each municipality. There is a lot to be done because at present, for example, fewer than half of the municipalities in Finland have a cross-administrative physical exercise programme.

At the same time, the assessment of the impacts of physical exercise should be included in impact assessments for all decision-making. The social rationale for physical activity is so strong that physical activity must be taken into account in all municipal activities.

More action to promote physical exercise is needed right away

It is not enough to merely record the issue in important municipal documents. Implementation requires attention as well. Physical exercise can be promoted in municipalities in many ways, for example by investing in sports services and supporting club activities.

It is beneficial to note that the key way in which municipalities can support physical activity is, in fact, indirect: municipalities provide the preconditions for physical activity, for example by increasing the number of sports facilities, ensuring affordable rents for facilities and promoting conditions that support walking and cycling.

More opportunities for physical exercise are needed in locations that are widely accessible for various age groups. This means, for example, that sports facilities are situated close to educational institutions and student housing. Students should make their voice heard if it seems that the students’ perspective is forgotten in the planning of sports venues and facilities.

Dialogue and cooperation across all administrative branches play an extremely important role in promoting physical activity. One way to strengthen cooperation between municipalities and the field of sports is to establish cooperation models at the municipal level, for example a club parliament or forum. This way, the municipality can utilise the special expertise of sports clubs and consult them in promoting physical activity. The student movement could also be involved in the activities of the club forum.

Let's elect sports-friendly candidates to municipal councils as decision-makers

Immobility poses a serious threat to both public health and the municipal economy. In the coming municipal council term, decision-makers have a great opportunity to embrace the challenge. We who operate at the level of sports organisations want to be strongly involved in that work.

Our fantastic sports community has an important role to play in bringing sports to the fore in municipal elections. In addition to the Finnish Student Sports Federation’s excellent municipal election themes, I recommend the Olympic Committee's election themes and other election materials to everyone. By highlighting these activities in the municipal elections – and after them – we will enhance well-being and bring joy and positive experiences to the everyday life of all municipal citizens.

So, let's turn the municipal elections into sports elections! With the future in mind, it is important that many sports-friendly decision-makers are elected to councils in the municipal elections this spring.

Toni Ahva

The author is Head of Public Affairs at the Finnish Olympic Committee.

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