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Couch potatoes brace for fitness drive

On your bike: the campaign aims to get more Swiss moving (Federal Sports Office)

Couch potatoes should prepare themselves for a proverbial kick up the backside from the government, which is launching a campaign to get the Swiss fit.

The Federal Office for Sport said it wanted to clamp down on spiralling health costs, as well as to help young athletes fulfil their sporting potential.

"We have two major problems with sports in Switzerland," Heinz Keller, the director of the Federal Office for Sport, told swissinfo. "Two in five of all Swiss do no exercise at all, a huge number which costs SFr1.6 billion in health care.

"The second thing is there is no national programme to help young Swiss talents get to the top and we have to change that."

The new 'sports concept' - the first of its kind in Switzerland - aims to address these issues by improving sports education and facilities in schools and in the community.

It will also target doping and violence in sports and help more handicapped people to become physically active.

"We need a breath of fresh air in our sports policy," said Samuel Schmid, the Swiss minister, said during the unveiling of the campaign on Tuesday.

"Sports is the nation's biggest popular movement," he added. "Some 3.2 million Swiss are members of a sporting organisation and, as such, we need a concerted, national programme."

If approved by parliament next month, the campaign will enable the sports ministry to pump an additional SFr4 million per year into sports until 2006, out of total annual spending of SFr120 million.

Get moving

A core objective of the programme is to reduce the number of physically inactive people by an annual one per cent - or 70,000 people - until 2006. If successful, this is expected to result in savings of almost SFr50 million per year in direct health costs.

Keller said the way to achieve this would be to step-up existing community sports programmes, such as 'Allez Hop', and to launch an information drive to encourage people to do at least 20 minutes of low-threshold exercise per day, such as cycling or walking.

"There's no doubt that's it'll be a huge challenge to get people moving," Brian Martin, responsible for health promotion at the federal office for sport, told swissinfo.

"So we have to find different ways to target all sections of the population and to team-up with other ministries in initiatives to reduce car traffic, for instance."

However, Martin acknowledged that the government had a tough job on its hands, particularly in view of the failure of similar schemes in other countries.

"Apart from Finland and Canada, there've been some terrible flops," he explains. "In Britain, they had a state-of-the-art, three-year campaign, which made absolutely no difference at all to the number of people doing sports."

More Simon Ammans

The second objective of the campaign is to improve the training for budding athletes in order to up the quota of young Swiss sporting heroes, such as the three-times Olympic gold winner, Simon Amman.

"In future, we'll have one place of coordination to help young sporting talents, not 26 cantons, not 2,800 communities," says Keller. "And we'll have more scholarships for young people."

A failure of the current system, says Keller, is that not enough state schools offer high-quality sports training for the country's 5,000 young athletes.

The government hopes to shift the balance away from private to state schools by introducing a quality label for schools which offer high-quality training, which would in turn make them eligible for additional state funding.

swissinfo

Key facts

The campaign aims to get 70,000 people a year to do more exercise.
Some 37% of people living in Switzerland do no sports at all.
They cost the government an estimated SFr1.6 billion a year in health care.

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