In Paris, A Chance to Play Brings Smiles!

Nike - Play International - ParisTwo fourth-grade classes hit the pitch as Nike and Play International preview this fall’s Active Schools program in Paris.

PARIS, 9:30am. — When they arrive at the Palais of Speed, Nike’s experience at the Palais de Tokyo, 10-year-old Badr and his buddies are thrilled to be sprung from school for the morning, but some are unsure about taking the temporary pitch situated between the Museum of Modern Art and the Palais de Tokyo, usually occupied by teenage skateboarders. “I don’t really play sports outside of school,” Badr says. But, his favorite activity right now is watching the European football championships on TV (Dimitri Payet is his hero), so he’s game.

Ten minutes later, Badr and his classmates, about 20 fourth graders from the Louis Blanc school in the 10th arrondissement, warm up with a coach from the Paris-based non-profit Play International. An emcee energizes the kids with motivating music from massive speakers facing the Seine.

By a stroke of good fortune the sun appears, seemingly for the first time in weeks. For an hour, the children laugh, run and play. By mid-morning, another fourth-grade class — this time from La Goutte d’Or in the 18th arrondissement — gathers on the bleachers to watch the fun before taking their turn on the field.

Play International, Nike’s partner in helping to create Active Schools in Paris, is founded on the philosophy that when kids play sports, it’s not only their health that benefits. “We know from our experience that you can tackle real issues through sports and games,” notes David Blough, director of Play International. “It’s a community builder, and bringing that kind of innovation to schools in countries like France and the UK is how we met Nike — we make a great match for bringing physical activity into French schools.” This morning’s activities are in fact a test-run for a program that will launch in September in five schools around Paris.

“We recognize that this is the least active generation of children in history, and the potential negative impact on individuals and society is huge,” comments Dan Burrows, Senior Director, for Community Impact at Nike. “We hope to reverse the trend of inactivity by delivering a quality and memorable experience of sport to kids age 7 to 12, so that sport and being physically active can rival all the other leisure options that kids have today.”

Fresh off the field, Zoe, 9, casts her vote for her favorite activity: “The tag-relay race. Everyone gets five passes with a ball, and everyone plays — that’s the best part,” she adds. Her classmates, Djihene and Halima, also 9, agree. And they’re up for more games. Pink-cheeked and sweaty, Badr gives his verdict on the morning: “My favorite part was trying to run faster than everyone else,” he says, posing for a quick photo on the way to the refreshment stand.

“Today is real progress compared to the beginning of the year,” explains François Vidalenc, a teacher at La Goutte d’Or. “Back in September these kids couldn’t even play all together. Now, they’ve learned how to get along together better and the real reward is to see them on the pitch playing together with big smiles. Sports and games are what they really need. They love it.”

About Arunava Chaudhuri

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