Municipalities should improve access to exercise, auditor says

Latvian local governments have great opportunities to influence the involvement of residents in physical activities, however, current actions do not reach residents of all ages and target groups. This was concluded by the State Audit Office November 1.

The auditor conducted an assessment of the effectiveness of local governments in involving residents in physical activities.

"The findings of the audit show that local government resources have not been used uniformly to improve the physical activity of all residents. Infrastructure and measures are mostly or in 87% of cases available to children and young people, while opportunities for adults, parents with young children, seniors, and residents with functional disorders to participate in physical activities offered by local governments are limited.

"In order to improve the situation in local governments, it is important to identify and analyze the involvement of all target groups in physical activities – this is a step towards planning sports infrastructure and events that meet the different needs of the population," said Edgars Korčagins, Member of the State Audit Office Board.

According to the auditors' calculations, on average only 13% of the funding granted by local governments for sports and physical activities has been diverted to so-called people's sports, or non-competitive activities accessible and doable by most. Although national sports policy prioritizes people's sports alongside children's and young people's activities, according to the auditors' calculations, the amount of public funding available to it does not exceed 3-5% of the funding directed to sports. Furthermore, in many municipalities, people's sports activities have been funded in recent years by a European Social Fund project. As this project will conclude this year, local governments urgently need to make decisions on how people's sport will be provided in the future.

The audit also shows an uneven gender distribution of money resources available for physical activity.

In municipalities, the number of boys and girls involved in physical activity shows significant differences (66% versus 34%), with the analysis of specific physical activity showing even more significant differences, the auditors noted. In the most financially-intensive sports, the overwhelming majority of participants are boys such as in hockey (97 percent), kayaking (73 percent), rowing (71 percent), BMX (81 percent). Also in team sports, the majority of participants are boys, including basketball (70%), floorball (92%), and football (96%). According to the State Audit Office, municipalities should analyze the reasons for this unequal allocation of resources and implement measures for equal involvement of both sexes in physical activity.

Local governments also play an important role in achieving the state's common goals in the field of physical activity and sports of residents, the State Audit Office said. As 61% of the population seldom or never engages in sports or sports games in Latvia, and 35% of the population seldom or never engages in other physical activities, the objectives of the sports policy are to increase the involvement of the population in physical activities.

The audit shows that in many places municipalities are not aware of this role, as the local government development planning documents set objectives in general terms and without linking them to the common national objectives.

In the assessment of State Audit Office, local governments have the possibility to expand and improve cooperation with non-governmental organizations, which would allow both increasing the number of residents involved in physical activity and allow the resources of local governments and non-governmental organizations to be effectively combined. 

Recommendations have been made to municipalities in order to facilitate greater involvement of the population in physical activity, i.e. the proportion of the physically active population should increase from 65% in 2022 to 67% in 2025 according to the Eurobarometer.

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