On February 7th and 8th, 2022, as part of the French EU Council Presidency, the first conference on sport, entitled “Sports and Sustainable Development Goals in Childhood: Societal Issues on Adequate Physical Activity”, took place at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. For two days, various stakeholders discussed how to further promote physical activity in children while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In his opening remarks, Xing Qu, Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, pointed out the many benefits that exercise brings from an early age, particularly improving physical and mental health and overall well-being. In addition, Xing Qu highlighted the importance of sports in building sustainable, inclusive and fairer societies. However, the data shows that overall physical activity levels are falling, especially since 2020 due to the pandemic. 80% of children were insufficiently active before the pandemic, and since the pandemic began, the status quo has worsened: physical activity has fallen by another 41%, while mental illness among adolescents has increased by 200%, according to UNESCO.
Sport and physical activity were also presented at the conference as ideal channels to promote children’s awareness, knowledge and understanding of nature and sustainability. This environmental learning helps to develop a relationship with nature while contributing to mental and physical well-being. The conference is therefore a call to action to include access to physical activity in every country’s pandemic plan. The Czech Republic and Sweden, which will hold the EU presidency after France, will also work to ensure that more attention is paid to the importance of sustainable and accessible sports infrastructure.