Two thousand five hundred schoolchildren from throughout Gauteng will attempt to keep a ball in motion for an uninterrupted 50 hours during the Johannesburg leg of the Oxygen Health of the Nation 50-Hour Sports Challenge, in association with Sporting Chance and Virgin Active. The event kicks off on Friday 17 October at the Southern Suburbs Sports Complex in Rosetenville, in a bid to highlight the importance of physical activity in children’s lives. 


This is the first time the Oxygen Health of the Nation 50-Hour Sports Challenge has taken place in Johannesburg. The 2008 campaign kicked off in Cape Town last month where over 3000 children took part.


Brad Bing of Sporting Chance, the youth sports development agency that conceived and co-ordinates the Challenge, said sports will include cricket, tennis, hockey (indoor and outdoor), table tennis, badminton, netball, basketball, soccer (indoor and outdoor), handball, squash and touch rugby.  The event was born as a direct response to the results of the Health of the Nation research findings on the physical fitness levels of South African children. The research project was analysed by the University of Cape Town/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa and featured in the South African Medical Journal.


The study of 10 500 schoolchildren from a broad spectrum of backgrounds across the country, revealed trends of obesity similar to those in developed countries more than ten years ago. The need for intervention strategies to combat an increasingly sedentary lifestyle was further highlighted by the fact that 14% of boys and 18% of girls were overweight, and that more than 3% of boys and nearly 5% of girls were obese.


The findings also indicated that children develop habits for life by the age of 12, which means that inactive children will most likely not develop an active and healthy lifestyle as adults.


“It was obvious that South Africa faced a serious task in getting the nation to keep active and participate in physical activity to create a healthy lifestyle,” says Bing. Primary objectives, in the light of the study and a decreased emphasis on physical education in schools, are to show the importance and positive effects of physical activity and sport, and to encourage as many children as possible to participate.


Sporting Chance’s approach is twofold,” says Bing, “and includes sport-coaching and holiday clinics at schools, together with the organisation of national youth sport events, such as the Oxygen 50-Hour Sports Challenge project. As thousands of children, primarily from disadvantaged communities across the country are involved, we are largely reliant upon the funding and support of corporate South Africa.  The recognition by Oxygen Medical Scheme and Virgin Active, of the importance of events such as this, is a key factor in ensuring a healthy lifestyle is within the reach of all our country’s youth. ” 


For the third year running, Oxygen Medical Scheme from Old Mutual is the main sponsor of this event, and commenting on their continued sponsorship, Oxygen’s chief executive and principal officer James van Vught says: “Sports and exercise play a positive role in a child’s life and if participation is made possible from a young age, they will reap the benefits in later years, of a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, with all the opportunities that will present.  It’s quite simply the best investment we can make in our nation’s health.”


Kim Webster CSR Manager for co-sponsor Virgin Active adds, “Virgin Active believes that creating an environment that makes it easier to adopt a healthy lifestyle is the ideal way to introduce children to wellness.  We therefore believe that the Health of the Nation event offers children the opportunity to learn about staying healthy the fun way through the games they play,”


Many accomplished sportsmen have benefited from Brad Bing as a coach and the Sporting Chance coaching programmes and events. These include Protea cricketers, Herschelle Gibbs and Jacques Kallis; former rugby Springbok, Neil de Kock; and current Lions lock, Anton van Zyl as well as Beijing Olympians, Andrew Cronje and Austin Smith. However, creating international sporting stars is not Sporting Chance’s primary aim and all its projects include a life-skills education component, focusing on nutrition, personal goal setting and the dangers of substance abuse, delivered to the youngsters in a fun and easy-to-understand manner.


“Team sports are a great way of teaching children essential life skills that can be applied throughout their lives. Sport shows us the beauty of friendship, camaraderie and team spirit and it helps us to deal with the hardships of failure, frustration and disappointment,” says Bing.


This leg of the Oxygen Health of the Nation 50-Hour Sports Challenge, which hosted 3000 kids in Cape Town last month, is endorsed by the national and Gauteng Department of Health, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa and the City of Johannesburg.


The Johannesburg Oxygen Health of the Nation 50-Hour Sports Challenge is on from 14h00 on Friday 17th October to Sunday 19th October at the Southern Suburbs Sports Complex in Rosetenville. Members of the public are encouraged to come and support the youngsters’ efforts. Schools or individuals wishing to participate can contact Natalie at Sporting Chance in Cape Town on (021) 683 7299.  Details also available at