Opinion | Longer school day benefits after-school sports

A reform of the school system offers a unique opportunity for us to allow our children to be more active during their day. For many sports clubs, the reform is an opportunity for them to come in contact with children that would never show an interest in sport.

Denmark’s sporting club system – foreningsidræt – is often named during the debate over full-day schools. Unfortunately, it is brought up an example of what’s wrong with the reform. People say how terrible it would be for sporting clubs if children were to be in school all day, or they say that schools will now be ‘robbing’ children’s free time and sport and other after school activities will become institutionalised, and that children will no longer have time to take active part in after school clubs. 

Let us put an end to those worries. These are not concerns we share. The government’s proposed school reform would not see children’s sporting activities overtaken by their schools. We, in fact, see the reform as a golden opportunity to introduce more physical education and activity into schools. 

It is our experience that an interest in sport begets an even greater interest in sport. The school reform would make it possible for sedentary children who feel uncomfortable playing sports to learn the joy of physical activity. This would have a significant effect on their ability to learn and their overall happiness. It would be of further benefit to society by allowing children to develop good exercise habits that they would carry with them throughout the rest of their lives. 

It is hard for us to see how volunteer sports clubs would have their existence threatened by the proposed reform to make them a part of the school day. Again, we see this as an opportunity, since it would make it possible to experience the joy of sport and expose more young people to sports clubs and the activities they offer. We have no doubt that closer collaboration between schools and clubs would be vastly beneficial for many clubs. 

Of course, not all of our more than 10,000 member clubs will be able to be a part of the school day. Being able to do so requires that clubs are big enough, have coaches and facilities available during the day, and that they can have their costs refunded, if they become a part of the school curriculum. 

We admit that a longer school day will cause problems for those clubs that organise activities before 3pm. Both of our organisations are against letting schools use sports facilities at the expense of clubs. Neither should clubs be put in the position of having to cancel events because students are prevented from attending. These problems, however, should be worked out at the local level, and flexibility should be a key word. We find that lawmakers are willing to listen to concerns, and in our opinion, the proposed reform makes it possible to be flexible. 

DGI and DIF have long worked to give Danish children a more physically active day. The government’s proposal to rethink primary schools makes it possible to do just that. Our advice is to pay closer attention to the benefits of the reform than its drawbacks. 

Søren Møller is the president of the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations (DGI)

Niels Nygaard is the president of the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF)