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Polluted urban air cuts like a knife, warns sports chaplain

The Westminster Chaplain for Sport has urged the Government to prioritise young people’s health, not just their academic achievements, as he suggested that polluted air can be “just as lethal” as knife crime.

His call came in response to a report warning that sports training grounds in English cities are suffering from polluted air, which could be hitting youngsters’ sporting potential.

Analysis of 94 sports grounds across five UK cities suggests that more than a quarter, 28 sites, exceeded World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended limits for PM2.5 particles or legal limits for nitrogen dioxide.

More than half had annual levels for particulate matter close to or at WHO’s guidelines for the safe limits, according to the report, launched as part of the Breathe GB campaign to highlight pollution’s impact on athletes of the future.

Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, Westminster Chaplain for Sport and CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, warned that such pollution is not only impacting future athletes, but it is damaging the health of young people and can even have fatal consequences.

“Pollution is a growing problem,” Mgr Felzmann told The Catholic Universe. “It is getting worse and damaging the growth of young people. Bad in many training areas, it is poor in all too many homes; at ground level and in basements.

“Knife crime is appalling. But the unseen hand of polluted air is – in the longer term – just as lethal.”

The chaplain noted that schools in urban areas near busy roads – especially where vehicles brake and accelerate – know that traffic causes untold harm and that Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) standards should be in place around homes, schools, parks and gyms.

“This government should put the health of young people – not just their academic achievements – high up on its priorities,” he added.

The Breathe GB study analysed air pollution levels at training grounds in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Birmingham, and spoke to respiratory consultants and experts in physical education.

Training grounds assessed included sites where sports stars such as Sir Mo Farah, David Beckham, Raheem Sterling and Christine Ohuruogu trained, The Air Team campaign group behind the report said.

Researchers warn that babies and children are especially vulnerable to air pollution, as their lungs are still developing and they breathe more rapidly than adults, which increases their exposure to toxic pollutants.

Air pollution can stunt lung development and put youngsters at a physical disadvantage in sport and physical activity, while exercising in toxic air can expose lungs more to pollutants, the report said.

Children living and playing sport in deprived areas are particularly vulnerable to air pollution, which can cause asthma and limit their ability to train, the report suggests.

Picture: An Ultra Low Emission Zone sign in London. (Yui Mok/PA).

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