More than just a grassroots-level sports event!
The organisers are keen the Schools Olympic Programme turns into an instrument of cultural change.
The Aspire Academy’s indoor football field was as busy as a beehive on Monday as a throng of excited children keenly followed their coaches’ instructions word for word.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Khalid Al Thani, who recently took charge as the Schools Olympic Programme’s (SOP) Organising Committee President, intently watched these young boys for some time before joining them in kicking a football, to mark the official opening of the 13th edition of the event organised by the Qatar School Sports Association.
Sheikh Khalifa said the programme, first launched in 2007, was aimed to go beyond just sports.
“Today’s just the start of what we hope will be a fantastic year of SOP competitions. It’s a great venue for different Qatari clubs to scout for talent. Their coaches regularly visit our matches looking for the next superstar. But organising sports competitions isn’t SOP’s only aim,” he told Inside Qatar.
Sheikh Khalifa opined that providing children with the right environment to practise sport was as important as talent scouting itself.
“We want to give Qatari and non-Qatari children the right environment to learn about sport and integrate it into their lifestyle. We want them to find their preferred discipline and continue to play outside SOP, in school and neighbourhood teams,” he said.
With the rise of social media, direct personal interaction has almost become non-existent in the younger generation. Children are now more interested in burying their noses in mobile phones and iPads than interacting with their peers. The SOP is keen to address this problem.
“Unfortunately, new technology promote a sedentary lifestyle among children. A majority of them spend time after school using iPads and social media. We want to reintroduce them to the joys of sport, just like during the pre-technology days,” said Sheikh Khalifa.
“Sport is a perfect platform to promote physical and social interaction. When children compete against rival school teams, they also make new friends and expand their social network. More than just being a sports event that runs throughout the year, we want to make SOP an instrument of cultural change at the grassroots level,” he added.
The benefits of programmes like SOP are many, including the prevention of childhood obesity and diseases related to it, like juvenile diabetes.
“Instead of finding a solution to childhood obesity, we want to prevent children from becoming overweight in the first place. Sports, and the SOP, is the way to do it. It’s always better to prevent lifestyle illnesses than look for cures after contracting them,” he said.
That participating children got fresh fruits as refreshment after the event, instead of fast food as in previous editions, was a clear indication of the new philosophy that had gone into SOP’s planning.
Sheikh Khalifa said they were also working on making stakeholders a stronger part of the annual event.
“We’re working on integrating more national sports federations, clubs and the Aspire Academy even more deeply into the SOP so that they feel emotionally invested in it. Once that happens, we’ll be able to unearth hidden talent from schools more rapidly,” said the official.
“We want to create a sports-friendly environment at Qatar’s grassroots level. It’s a long process, but we hope to be able to achieve it soon,” he concluded.