When we think of sport we tend to think of younger people at the peak of their physical fitness playing football, rugby or Gaelic, but sport can, and should be, a lifelong activity.
A shining example of the power of sport for all ages is Chair of Sport NI George Lucas, who at the age of 75 has recently returned from Florida after competing for Ireland seniors in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Senior World Team Championships.
Every year the ITF stages world veteran championships for tennis players with categories ranging from the over 30+ right up to the 90+ to help retain and prolong interest in tennis as a sport for life. Ireland had three teams competing at in the 70+, 75+, and 80+ groups, with George recording two wins in the 75+ age group against Argentina and Zimbabwe.
Sport NI’s new five-year plan, The Power of Sport, aims to maximise the power of sport to change lives by increasing and sustaining participation in sport and physical activity across Northern Ireland.
Sport is a powerful tool to support emotional, mental and physical well-being for all ages. Recent research has shown that an estimated over 97,000 cases of disease were prevented in Ireland in 2019 from sport and physical activity participation. Indeed, the Copenhagen City Heart Study (CCHS), a 25-year research project, reported a link between playing certain sports and increased life expectancy, with tennis topping the list followed by badminton and football. As well as the obvious health benefits, playing sport can also provide us with a sense of belonging and connection, improving our mental health and wellbeing.
“At Sport NI we believe in the power of sport to change lives and that everyone should have the opportunity to play a sport, regardless of their age or ability. Physical activity improves both our physical and mental health which are increasingly important as we age. I have been playing tennis since I was 5 years old. It helps me stay fit and healthy and I have made friends for life.
“While competing in Florida I had the pleasure to meet Leonid Stanislovski, 98 from Ukraine, who started playing tennis at the age of 90 and continues to compete in ITF competitions. As the world’s oldest competitive tennis player Leonid is an inspiration to us all. There are so many sports available and I would encourage everyone to keep playing their sport and not be afraid to try something new. Age should not be a barrier, if Leonid and I can do it so can you!”
Sport NI is committed to tackling the preconception that sport is solely for younger people and maximising opportunities for people of all ages to get out there and take part. Many sports are now adapting to allow more people to enjoy them, slowing down the pace and cutting down on physical contact. Danderball, Half-Paced Hurling and Gaelic for Mothers and Others are great examples how sports can adapt to allow more people to participate.
Age NI, the leading charity in Northern Ireland dedicated to helping everyone make the most of later life, also recognises the importance of sport and physical activity.
Vicki Caddy, Age NI said:
“At Age NI, we are committed to supporting older people to live well for longer and we are in no doubt that regular physical activity is good for both mind and body. Even if you aren’t motivated by competitive sport, a daily walk and some gentle strength and balance exercises can work wonders to help us to keep getting the most out of life. It is never too late to get started, as proven by George and the wonderful Leonid!”
[i] Sport Ireland, and Sheffield Hallam, Researching the Value of Sport in Ireland 2021