There has been much speculation that the British success at the Olympics will generate higher sporting participation which will further enhance the nation’s health.
Recent research conducted by Professor Stephen Reicher from University of St Andrews offers a different alternative in which the Olympics could be good for our well-being.
In 2015, research took place in Australia and New Zealand before and after the World Rugby Cup final between those countries. It revealed that the quality of interactions improved between New Zealanders after their victory. The victory triggered a stronger sense of community which enhanced both physical and mental health.
Professor Reicher suggested: “After a tremendous success – like winning the world cup or, perhaps, doing so well in the Olympics – there is a sense that you can go up to anybody in your community, even a complete stranger, say ‘wasn’t that wonderful’ and they will not only understand you but agree with you.
“This brings people together, creates a sense of community, and makes us believe that others are there for us. This belief gives us a sense of security and of efficacy, which is at the root of improved well-being.”
Moreover, Professor Reicher noted that a range of new studies indicate the connection between a well being and a sense of shared community identity, whether it is a matter of pilgrims attending a religious carnivals in Asia, workers with high-stress jobs, or of pensioners in old people’s homes.
“The simple but powerful message is that community is good for us, and so anything which builds a sense of community, like the Olympics, improves our well-being,” he continued.
Yet will the glow from Rio continue?
“In the short term, the Olympics drowns everything else out and so has a major effect on our sense of belonging together. In the longer term many other factors will affect whether we believe we are ‘in it together’.
“The Olympics will remain an example and a metaphor of what can be achieved when there is dedicated teamwork, when there is adequate funding and when it is truly distributed according to need.”
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