by Dr John van Bockxmeer, Founder & Patron of Fair Game
In 2010 I was working as an intern in an outback Australian hospital. As I was sealing an oxygen mask on a man in his twenties suffering from multiple chronic diseases, I looked out of the window and saw children enthusiastically playing sport in the dust. They were using a piece of rubbish for a soccer ball.
I couldn’t get this image out of my mind as I realised that not every Australian has access to the same healthy lifestyle choices. Historical legacies of inequality and trauma result in people ending up in hospital where health professionals like me are only able to provide temporary solutions to their problems which could have been prevented with early intervention.
I wanted to find an holistic and empowering way to curb the tide of lifestyle-related physical and mental health conditions and wondered what the effect of providing footballs to the children kicking rubbish would be? I dreamed of donating equipment alongside health and fitness education to facilitate physical activity, community sport and build resilience.
Then one day I got together with a group of friends to start recycling seemingly worthless items of second hand sports equipment from people’s homes, schools and recreation centres. We asked under-serviced Australians what items they needed and then drove thousands of kilometres personally donating pre-loved equipment to them.
After a year of helping out we realised more was needed to build sustainable long-term behavioural change. We began integrating best-practice messaging from a range of government health promotion programs in fun, unique ways into our sport and fitness programs. We learnt that peer education delivery outside the classroom in a relatable environment was far more effective in producing positive outcomes for young people.
We continued to refine and adapt our three core programs and began running team-based games and Australia’s first local-language yoga initiative, the Wellness Walkabout, connecting country and culture.
As the donations of sports equipment kept pouring into our collection points, more hands-on deck were needed! We started a training academy to grow our expansion through hubs across the country. The development of our Fair Gamer program allowed us to harness the passion of young volunteers in cities and towns who train to become culturally competent practitioners growing a brighter future of health equity.
Building trust, we became community-led and have deep connections with our participants, enhancing their skills over time. Our innovative model is both cost-effective and agile in its response to the changing needs of our multiple partner organisations.
The impact we are making is tangible and long-lasting. Our volunteers mentor participants and donate recycled equipment so that communities can continue to access healthy lifestyle choices in the future. I see teenagers in the small town where I work who are now fitter, happier and participating in regular sport as a result of our programs.
Until young people suffering from lifestyle-related illness stop presenting to the hospital, the need for Fair Game remains. I believe that when I take my stethoscope off and step out onto the basketball court with our Fair Gamers, my real work begins. Please join us in creating a fit and healthy Australia.