Sports Clubs

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The core business of sports clubs is to organise sporting activities in a given sport or sports. These club activities commonly place a strong focus on competitive sports and emphasise athletic development and sports performance, with a lesser focus on recreational sports and increasing physical activity through sports. A plethora of evidence exists on the manifold health benefits of physical activity and participation in sports. Due to its many health benefits, physical activity has been conceptualised as and termed health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA). This term is usually used to describe aerobic physical activities of moderate- to vigorous- intensity, such as walking, jogging, skiing, and swimming. The findings of recent research have indicated that vigorous-intensity physical activity may produce even greater health benefits than moderate-intensity physical activity. Given that high intensity levels characterize many sports disciplines, it is reasonable to suggest that by performing their core duties, sports clubs may make a valuable contribution to health promotion and public health.

Health promotion is usually not among the main activities pursued at a sports club. However, good health is indisputably beneficial for all sport club members, who range in skill level from amateurs to top athletes and in age from children to seniors. With millions of members, sports clubs are the largest setting at which an opportunity exists to promote health-enhancing physical activity and health in general through the conduit of sports. Therefore, the Sports Club for Health (SCforH) approach was developed to help utilize the great public health potential of sports clubs. The SCforH approach was officially initiated and the first guidelines were published in 20091, and these guidelines were updated in 20112.

The idea of SCforH approach was conceived in 2007 in Finland. At that time, the potential of sports to promote health-enhancing physical activity had been recognised at the political level in Europe. Initially, the White Paper on Sport by European Commission (2007) introduced the promotion of health-enhancing physical activity as a key objective of the EU sports policy3. Thereafter, in 2013, the Council of the European Union suggested SCforH implementation as one of the 23 indicators that should be used to evaluate health-enhancing physical activity levels and policies in EU member states4. In addition, representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have expressed their interest in SCforH approach. The mission of the International Olympic Movement is stated in the Olympic Charter5 and, among other things, this states that its aims are to educate youth through sports and encourage and support incentives to improve the medical care for and health of athletes. Accordingly, the current Agenda of the International Olympic Committee, Agenda 2020, also refers to the educational and health values of sports6.

Physical activity recommendations issued by the EU, US, Australia, WHO, and many other countries and organisations have highlighted the value of both vigorous- and moderate-intensity physical activity. Participation in sports club activities can help adult and elderly members of society meet these recommendations. Although children and youths who participate in organised sports often have higher levels of physical activity as compared to their peers7,8, studies indicate that not all of them meet the physical activity recommendations.9-13

A strong wish to advance the SCforH concept has been expressed by members of the European research, policy and sports communities. The widespread adoption of the SCforH approach may increase participation in sports and, at the same time, help improve the health of sports club members. This is expected to result in greater recognition of the significance and stronger social and public health implications of sports.

This book of guidelines is primarily targeted toward the sports clubs located in EU member states. We acknowledge that the contexts, organisational structures, and practices of sports clubs may vary substantially in the different countries14. This book of guidelines offers a standardised approach that may be used in any country and which can subsequently be adapted to fit specific circumstances in a given country or in an individual sports club. In this book, the principles of SCforH are described along with an application model that can be applied to help sports clubs integrate health-enhancing physical activity and a broader health perspective into their routine activities. This publication represents an updated version of the previously-published SCforH guidelines1,2, and places a special focus on specific age groups – from childhood to old age.