The role public leaders can play in improving the resilience of their communities in the current coronavirus pandemic through new sport and exercise initiatives has been highlighted on the opening day of the seventh Smart Cities & Sport Summit.
Philippe Furrer, the Movement and Sports activist who is founder of insPoweredBy, told the two-day, Lausanne-based Summit - which is being held virtually this year - that getting people to be more active had huge physical and economic benefits, particularly with regard to COVID-19.
"More and more studies coming out show it makes sense to get people active from an economic point of view," he said.
"Several studies have pointed out that one dollar, one pound invested in physical activity and sports has a return on investment of at least four or more times depending upon the type of activity.
"So we are talking about billions in the economy we can save by simply having a positive impact on the cost of public health, for example, on the productivity of people and absenteeism and that kind of stuff.
"There is a growing burden of sedentarism.
"We all know the cost of chronic disease burgeoning everywhere.
"What the current crisis has revealed is that the more chronic disease and sedentarism you have in your society, the more likely you are to have a lot of people hit by COVID.
"We have an over-representation of people with chronic disease, obesity and diabetes in hospital beds right now, and this is an important consideration for public leaders, for city leaders, to anticipate this crisis and to build up the resistance and the resilience of our communities.
"Because the benefits are so enormous, including in such a crisis situation.
"Recent studies have shown clearly the link between the fitness level of people and the likelihood of ending up in hospital.
"They are very interesting studies - they are very new and fresh and of course we will need months to digest all of this data.
"Another challenge for a lot of cities that every city is sharing is air pollution. We are talking about more than a million people who have sadly died of COVID, but every year we have the death of more than four million people because of air pollution in cities.
"Now, pushing for physical activity and sports and more softer, sustainable mobility solutions in cities can actually address also this challenge.
"It costs Governments several points on their GDP so it’s an important consideration."
Furrer than looked at trends involving new, "human-centred" designs in cities such as Vancouver, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Lausanne.
"Some of these trends have gained attention because of COVID," he said.
"We have all seen a number of bicycle tracks that have popped up in our cities. T
“They were supposed to be temporary, but in many cases they remain.
"I feel this is where we are going, and probably at a faster pace than we expected.
"There is a move to re-possess run-down areas in the neighbourhoods to really bring people around the originally designed sports grounds.
"Even brands like Nike have just re-designed and launched an active park in Tokyo.
“There are a lot of moves and evolutions in this environment right now.
"It’s about re-thinking the cityscape and bringing people down in the streets.
"And literally in the streets – that is, moving cars away and putting in some of these little park lots….
"It is really time to move away from this car-centric design that we have inherited for decades."
The afternoon session was preceded by a recorded message from Raffaele Chiulli, President of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF)
"It is a difficult time," he said.
"The world of sport has no doubt been hit hard as have people all over the world, and my heart goes out to all those affected by the global pandemic.
"But through these dark times it has been particularly impressive to see the global sport community find new ways to move sport forward, whether through virtual competition, online webinars or social media challenges.
"Sport has connected us when our physical contact with our friends and families has been restricted. Indeed, we have seen how the world needs sport, but also how sport needs its global community.
"And this is why it is so important for us to continue sharing best practices.
"Sport is needed now more than ever…
"I wish all participants in the Smart Cities & Sport Summit the best of success."
Furrer’s comments came during the section on Cities and Sustainable Development Goals.
The opening morning session had addressed how cities, international sports federations and international organisations could work together to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, before considering Peace and Sport: How to Shape Better Cities Through Sport.