A different opinion

A different opinion image

author: Mikel Bringas, 

The discourse related to the nature and benefits of physical activity is not very varied. Apparently there is a broad consensus... or not?

Among the amendments submitted to the Draft Law on Physical Activity and Sport of the Basque Country, disagreements have been expressed with the proposed definitions. In this text I have presented my opinion. In short: I find no justified reason to modify the proposed definitions.

I see it clearly, but when I have such a sure opinion and someone does not understand it in the same way, I usually try to find arguments that can allow me to change my opinion. This strategy has worked for me several times, and helped me to realize that I was wrong. And here I have done the same. In that search I fell upon this webinar with such an attractive title:

After Joe Piggin's presentation, my opinion did not change, but he got me curious, and I started reading his book The Politics of Physical Activity.

The general objective of the book is really interesting:

This book uses critical analysis to challenge accepted truths about physical activity and therefore opens up a pathway to more effective, and more socially just, physical activity policy.

And his concrete intentions too:

  • examine how physical activity policy and promotion is inherently political
  • show how physical activity has been consciously and politically connected with a wide variety of other social arenas
  • interrogate some of the dominant ideas which inform thinking about physical activity
  • examine the use and usefulness of different forms of evidence in physical activity policy
  • examine the paradoxes and tensions about physical activity policy and promotion which arise in this multifaceted domain
  • illuminate the potentially problematic effects that interventions can have on individuals and the possible implications for future settings.

The author says that three factors make the politics of physical activity worthy of examination:

First, the World Health Organisation’s launch of its global physical activity strategy in 2018 has continued to elevate physical activity as an important health issue. Second, data from around the world continue to highlight the detrimental effects of poor health, often stemming from deep-set inequalities. Physical activity is increasingly linked to issues of equity. Third, physical activity is a multidimensional, multisectoral practice, which is not comparable to a single health behaviour or disease.

Regarding this third reason, I do not see what he says so clearly. For example, does nutrition not fulfill it too?

It gives great importance to people's freedom, and questions the goodness of the promotion of physical activity:

Promoting physical activity requires suggesting (and sometimes dictating) what people do with their time, their money, their bodies and their minds.

But isn't it the same with any promotion?

It also discusses the importance attached to the health perspective:

Physical activity is a discipline and domain that often relies heavily on the science of health and medical knowledge, possibly to the detriment of other forms of knowledge.

Regarding this topic I have already expressed my opinion, therefore I will not repeat myself.

I find particularly interesting his defense in favor of having a critical attitude:

Rather, by illuminating inaccuracies, misrepresentations and over-reaches we might first encourage scepticism about grand proclamations, and second, open space to develop a critical and ethical approach to physical activity promotion. 

I agree to question those ideas that are considered good without hardly being questioned. He makes specific mention of the levels of physical activity:

Even the ‘facts’ about physical activity can contradict one another. It appears that the truth about how active a country is depends on who you ask.

In some previous articles I have questioned some data provided. For example, in this article that I published recently we can see that Spanish children are remarkably more active than Danes. Recall that in Denmark they say that 45 min. of daily physical activity is mandatory in schools and that it is said that cycling to school is common. I use "it is said" to reflect the author's proposal.

Referring to this topic it seems appropriate to remember this tweet:

The use of physical activity for economic purposes seems understandable and credible. He  provides concrete examples linked to the companies Nike and Coca-Cola, one of them sponsoring the "ParkLives" program.

Coincidentally, some time ago I published this tweet:

I remember that a few years ago they looked at me in my office like a Martian when I commented that it did not seem right for Coca-Cola to sponsor the Basque school games. Today Coca-Cola is no longer a sponsor, but it is Cafés La Brasileña, and in my opinion it generates a similar problem.

He also performs a thorough analysis of the WHO physical activity strategy. The document determines: “the greatest efforts towards the least active populations”. In the Mugiment project, we have determined a similar priority: “people stop being inactive”. Joe Piggin’s critique is based on the analysis of the tables of the levels of physical activity of the different states, in which it is shown that in some cases the most developed countries are the most inactive (Italy, Australia and Kuwait, for example). Therefore, the priority determined by WHO in 2004 “to devote the greatest attention to the poorest countries” would not be respected.

In our case, this contradiction is not fulfilled, because according to the Basque health survey, low socio-economic level is correlated with low physical activity level.

Analysis is as demanding as it is appropriate in the chapter Physical activity and the politics of junk food, revealing the interests of companies such as McDonald’s or Coca-Cola. An extreme example is as follows:

A ‘scandal’ that exemplifies the scepticism about corporate involvement in sport and health promotion was Cadbury UK’s 2003 ‘Get Active Scheme’, which encouraged children and schools to collect tokens from chocolate bars which could be exchanged for school sports equipment.

The author's kiwi origin can be seen in his analysis of risk-related policies, exposing the negative consequences that sports such as rugby can generate.Example

Finally, in my opinion you can be in favor or against the theories of Joe Piggin, but what can not be denied is that he provides a different and courageous opinion, and that has to be appreciated.