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“Where we used to have 10 young talents, there are now only two,” Jörn Elberding told DW.
The managing director of the German top sports club Bayer Leverkusen has been observing this shortage of young talent for a number of years.
“Things have certainly changed. You have to look really hard these days,” he added.
Bayer Leverkusen has produced numerous world and Olympic champions, so it is a serious problem when a club of its size fights for young talent. So serious that the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) is now looking for ways to massively counteract the trend.
“We have to turn things around with new concepts,” said Dirk Schimmelpfennig, DOSB board member for competitive sports, in an interview with DW.
Part of the DOSB plan is to first motivate young people to become more active. However, they are trying to reverse a long-term trend that is not reversible overnight.
“The (Germany) record in Tokyo reflects a development over the past 30 years,” emphasized Schimmelpfennig.
German young people are no longer as active as they used to be
At the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Germany won a total of 82 medals (33 gold, 21 silver, 28 bronze). At the Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer, that number dropped to just 37 (10 gold, 11 silver, 16 bronze).
Worse motor skills in German adolescents
“It is becoming increasingly clear that adolescents and children are lagging behind in terms of their motor skills and are becoming less and less active. This has been exacerbated by the pandemic, “said Schimmelpfennig. “The first thing we have to do is get the kids moving again.”
Researchers have also been observing the phenomenon for some time.
“When it comes to motor problems, there is no uniform picture,” says Christine Joisten, head of the Department of Exercise and Health Promotion at the German Sport University in Cologne, to DW. “Of course there are still children who are sufficiently active and move around well. But with the poorer level of education, their motor skills also decrease.”
This leads to obesity, a lack of exercise and, as a result, even less desire for activity. And it’s not just the pandemic that’s to blame.
“Studies have shown that around the turn of the millennium, the motor level decreased again due to the changed media consumption. In the meantime, however, it has stabilized at a low level, ”says Joisten.
Olympic sport in Germany has difficulties to compete financially with other countries
What role does funding play?
While one might think that Germany is not alone with this problem, other countries are doing much better.
“Sport plays a bigger role in other countries … In the high-performance area, other nations were faster and more efficient, especially those that caught up with us like Italy, France, Japan. We also have a very complicated financing system,” said Schimmelpfennig, who also wants to see a structural change.
But funding is always a key factor in elite success. Bayer Leverkusen Managing Director Elberding points to the promotion of top athletes in the USA.
“Some universities invest 100 million euros annually in sport,” he said. For comparison: In 2019, the Federal Ministry of the Interior made available a total of just under 83 million euros in federal funds to all of the country’s Olympic associations.
Political support needed
The way to motivate more young people, to produce more top athletes and consequently to win more Olympic medals, has to start at the grassroots level. The DOSB hopes for support from a new German government.
Video games have replaced sport for many German young people
“First of all, there must be the political will to promote (physical) activity,” said Schimmelpfennig. “We have to get the motivation to be more active in day-care centers and elementary schools. This is important for socio-political reasons, but also from a health perspective.”
By getting more kids to get active and improve their motor skills, you can also become more efficient at assessing talent, Schimmelpfennig said. He added that some politicians had expressed their support for the ideas of the DOSB.
“We have to look for talent now,” said Elberding. “The crucial question is: do we actually want sports and medals in Germany?”
The managing director of Bayer Leverkusen emphasized that it not only needed more financial resources, but also more fundamental changes, such as a recognition of the importance of sport by society as a whole – or that Germany is once again the venue for the Olympic Games.
“Society must be prepared for this.”
This article has been translated from German.