Working in the health sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, I understand better than ever the important role sport and physical activity play in our mental health and well-being.
Everyday I see people whose suffering is compounded by a life without sport. Our health system cannot sustain the alarming trends of inactivity we are currently seeing across Canada. As an Olympian, I learned firsthand how sport and an active lifestyle lead to better health for children and adults.
Now, as a medical resident, I’m more convinced than ever that sport needs to be a central part of Canada’s future. It is absolutely crucial for Canada’s healing, resilience, and especially for our post COVID-19 recovery. But for sport to make a difference, it has to be accessible. No group can be denied the long-term benefits sport can provide.
My sport story started at the age of three, when my parents signed me up for our local skating club in Berthierville, Que. As an only child, sport allowed me to socialize with other kids. That sense of belonging to a team is something I feel to this day, even though my figure skating career is behind me. Sport brings people together.
Sport was my school of life. It wasn’t the medals or the trophies that made my career memorable, but the people I met and my coaches who had such a positive influence on me. Falls happen (often!) in skating. I learned quickly how to pick myself up after a fall or setback, which served me well in school and beyond. Sport taught me the importance of teamwork. My desire to keep active continues, and those healthy habits have stuck with me and remain an essential part of my life.
The seeds of physical and mental health are sown early. The self esteem built through sports can lead to great things down the road, and help keep Canadians active throughout their lives.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian Paralympic Committee are asking the federal government to invest in grassroots sports in new and impactful ways. They understand better than anyone that podium finishes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games begin in neighborhoods throughout Canada.
This investment will allow National Sport Organizations to grow grassroots sport and get kids back on the field, in the pool, and on the ice. Coming out of this crisis, sport could be a powerful tool for rebuilding holistic, healthy and inclusive communities. It supports our national priorities of economic prosperity, safer communities and the cultural and social integration of all Canadians, especially those new to Canada.
I’ve seen for myself how the pandemic has highlighted another important challenge: we need to “build back better” when it comes to sport and physical activity.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, far too many were left on the sidelines. Low income or single parent families, people with disabilities, Indigenous people and people of colour were already underrepresented in Canadian sport. In a country that holds diversity and inclusion among its core values, we must ensure grassroots sport embodies this in every way.
The time has come to reboot sport with leadership from the National Sport Organizations, to reintroduce and reconnect Canadians to community sport. Such critical support will grow participation by reducing the barriers to sport, including costs. It will assist with direct outreach to marginalized communities, make gender equity a priority, and help develop leaders and role models that reflect Canadians at every level.
Budget 2021 is the federal government’s opportunity to invest in sport and physical activity as a vital part of our national recovery. Sport can help our communities get back on their feet. It can help all Canadians with our personal and collective physical and mental well-being. It can help Canada build back better.
(Top large image submitted by Owen Egan)