World Health Day: How the Olympic Games help keep host communities – and our planet – healthy

06 Apr 2022
IOC News Legacy

The Olympic Games create wide-ranging benefits that can help their hosts adopt healthier and more sustainable lifestyles – often long before the Games begin, and long after they end. To celebrate World Health Day on April 7 – which this year focuses on keeping people and the planet healthy – we look at how past and future Games are helping create healthier environments for their host communities, boosting physical activity, showcasing climate solutions and promoting sustainable transport.

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Boosting physical activity

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children and teenagers engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day, while adults should do at least 150 minutes throughout the week. But it notes that as many as 80 per cent of adolescents and one in four adults do not meet the recommended levels.

Regular physical activity helps prevent noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and several cancers too. It also improves the quality of our daily lives.

Besides enabling the world’s top athletes to compete, the Olympic Games also provide an opportunity to engage the wider public in exercising more. All Olympic Games organisers are required to deliver a long-term physical activity and sports for all programme in the host territory before, during and after the Olympic Games. Host cities do therefore  use the Games as a catalyst  to  improve their  facilities and increase access to elite and recreational sport

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The IOC and WHO have worked together since 1984, leading to numerous joint initiatives to promote healthier lifestyles and grassroots sports activities, and fight physical inactivity through sport. In May 2020, the two organisations signed a new Cooperation Agreement and are notably tightening their collaboration for future Games, starting with Paris 2024, to address emerging issues, including the prevention of noncommunicable diseases.

Tokyo 2020

Increased sports participation was a key part of Tokyo 2020’s legacy plan with an aim of increasing the number of adults in the city who practise sport at least once a week. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tokyo 2020 obtained impressive results: some 69 per cent said they had participated in sport in 2021, up from 39 per cent in 2007.  

Soon after the Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government launched the TOKYO Sports Legacy Vision to build on this achievement. The aim of the initiative is to further promote sports participation in the city by ensuring the strategic use of sports facilities, hosting international sports events, and expanding opportunities for sports practice to all parts of Tokyo, among other things.

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Combining tradition with the future, the Tokyo 2020 venues also helped the city’s 14 million residents to have healthier lifestyles. The Tokyo Bay Zone, for example, is a cluster of modern venues, many of them linked to the water. Away from the cutting-edge technologies of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, expected to welcome one million visitors per year, the area also includes new possibilities for canoeing, archery, sailing, hockey and more. Visitors can also simply jog in the park and enjoy the green waterside spaces.

Beijing 2022

China’s progress is often measured by the million as the country accounts for nearly one-fifth of the global population. And that holds true for the Olympic Games Beijing 2022.

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Since its election to host the 2022 Winter Games, Beijing has engaged nearly 350 million people in winter sports, bringing healthier lifestyles to China’s citizens and many opportunities for local and regional development. To get there, some 23,000 people were trained as instructors in the Beijing region in 2019 alone, and nearly 3,000 schools had included winter sports in their curriculum by the end of 2020, for example.

The developments are expected to create lasting health and social benefits, as well as jobs and other economic opportunities.

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Paris 2024

Like many other countries, France is striving to adress the decline  of physical exercise and growing obesity levels within its population.  Paris 2024 is already having a positive impact, through its “Bouger Plus” [Move More] strategy, which promotes sport and physical activity in schools, towns and businesses.

In schools, the programme is working with other initiatives to ensure that students get 30 minutes of daily physical activity. By December 2021, the initiative had reached about 500,000 youth  in 7,000 schools. By 2024 when the Paris Olympics take place, the initiative is expected to have reached every school in France.

In more than 1,000 towns, Paris 2024 is funding sport and new facilities, collaborating with local clubs, as well as authorities in the Greater Paris Region and Seine Saint Denis. Impact 2024 is an endowment fund to invest as much as EUR 50 million in social innovation through sport in the run-up to Paris 2024.

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Los Angeles 2028

With funding to the tune of USD 160 million, provided by the LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games Organising Committee and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a new initiative was launched in November 2021 to ensure that every Los Angeles child will have the opportunity to play sport at low-cost, or no-cost, in their neighbourhood. The initiative, called PlayLA, is the single largest commitment ever to youth sports development in California.

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The programme works by subsidising participation fees throughout the school year for leagues, classes and sports clinics. It also offers adaptive sports programmes for kids with physical disabilities, a first in the city’s youth sports programming. PlayLA showcases the benefits of collaboration between the IOC, Games organisers and local city authorities, long before the Games have begun.

Showcasing climate solutions
World Health Day: Showcasing climate solutions
In Part II of our series to celebrate World Health Day, which this year focuses on keeping people and the planet healthy, we look at how past and future Games are helping create healthier environments for their hosts by showcasing climate solutions.
Learn more
Promoting sustainable transport
With trains able to travel at up to 350 kilometres per hour, the new Beijing-Zhangjiakou high-speed railway – which was delivered in time for the Olympic Games Beijing 2022 - had carried more than 6.8 million passengers within a year of its launch before the Games.
In Part III of our series to celebrate World Health Day, which this year focuses on keeping people and the planet healthy, we look at how past and future Games are helping create healthier environments for their host communities by promoting sustainable transport.
Learn more
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