• Sportacus changing children's unhealthy lifestyles

    Written by Andrew Kaggwa
    The Observer, Uganda

    As a child, you will always have a favourite superhero; these are usually TV or movie characters, the likes of Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Mutant X, Ben 10 and the Power Puff Girls, among others. Superheroes become part of children’s lives as they continuously identify with the fight between good and evil.

    Recently, during the MultiChoice content showcase, dubbed ‘Only the Best’ at Trou Aux Biches Hotel and Spa in Mauritius, some of these superheroes came to life during the Turner Broadcasting System children’s fair. A particular episode depicted a neighbourhood under attack by some Jim Carey-lookalike in a striped suit. He thought the sports and active lifestyle residents of the neighbourhood were adopting should be discarded. He created a robot that destroyed many of the playing facilities and confiscated all the playing balls. That is when a man with an extraordinary moustache appears on a skateboard, surfing with a series of aerobic moves. “Sportacus,” the pink-haired girl screams. This man, Sportacus, later defeats the villain after a 100-metre or so race, and soon returns to his dazzling-white spaceship in the sky by way of a wind-powered airborne bicycle.

    Health and fun
    If you are an adult and totally have no idea of what I am talking about, it could only mean one thing; you have been using your little boy and girl’s TV time to watch either Ki-Nigeria or Bukedde. But here, I am talking about Lazy Town, the fastest-moving, fastest-selling children’s TV show that airs on Boomerang Africa channel on DStv. Lazy Town lead actor Magnus Scheving (Sportacus), was probably one of the biggest packages the Mauritius showcase came with. He dashed through the door, surprising the Mauritian kids present. Within no time, he started going through his normal drills of walking on his hands, doing back flips and making kids exercise – it is basically what his character, Sportacus, stands for on the show.

    Lazy Town is a children’s educational and musical TV show with a cast and crew drawn from Iceland, United Kingdom, and the United States. It is a multifaceted entertainment show that aims to turn the concept of health into fun for children and adults alike. It is the only entertainment brand of its kind that is dedicated to children’s health and since its inception in 1994, Scheving in his Sportacus suit, has inspired millions of children and families to be active and make healthy lifestyle choices. From an athletic family background, Scheving, Iceland’s 1992 aerobic gymnastics Men’s Individual champion, notes that Lazy Town was created because there was no TV content for children in Iceland. World's most expensive In his view, children’s idea of a superhero wasn’t supposed to be one that was violent and somebody had to encourage them on being healthy instead. “I know children don’t really care about diet and health; so, you have to make them love it through TV,” he says during a chat with The Observer. That is when he conceptualised the idea of Lazy Town and its superhero, Sportacus. At first, Scheving didn’t want to take on the part, but after looking for an ideal candidate in vain, he decided to give it a shot himself. “I was trying to find a well-built guy, [with a] moustache, but I didn’t get him,” he says. When he started his live shows back in 1994, Scheving never realised he and Lazy Town were destined for fame dividends. It took the answer of a politician in Iceland for the athlete to realise he had made a good run. “I was doing pushups while watching TV and then the politician was asked why obesity was going down,” he narrates. “Then he said, ‘It is because of Lazy Town’.” This is when the show really took off. Scheving went on to produce more live shows, marathons and of course TV episodes that have been translated into over a dozen languages and aired in more than 100 countries. The show is part live action, part puppetry and part CGI (computer-generated imagery) animation. The budget for each episode was approximately ISK (Icelandic króna) 70m (approximately $1m), about five times the average cost for a children’s television programme at the time, making it “the most expensive children’s show in the world,” according to Scheving.

    Getting old

    On the show, Sportacus is always shown flying over Lazy Town, inspiring children to switch off their video games and to stop eating junk food. With the fourth season yet to premiere in November, Scheving is more than pleased to continue capturing imaginations using entertainment. Pierre Branco, the vice president, Southern Europe and Africa for Turner Broadcasting System, the operators of Boomerang channel, says they are proud of the show’s mission to help children and families make healthier lifestyle choices.

    Magnus works with Michele Obama during the Lets Move Campaign

    “We fully support the show and its creator’s work in this area. Boomerang and Magnus Scheving share the same ambition to turn Lazy Town into a truly evergreen series along with the other family favourites on the channel,” he says. Unfortunately though, the world might not get to watch Sportacus for long. Scheving exclusively reveals that since he will be turning 50 on November 10, 2014, that day in Mauritius would be the last day he wears the Sportacus suit. “At 50, I am getting too old for many of those physical challenges,” he says. But trust Scheving, he won’t be out there gaining useless weight; he is already looking at becoming a health motivational speaker to encourage both children and adults to live healthy lifestyles. Since he started the franchise, Scheving has been a dedicated health ambassador for responsible livelihoods in Portugal. He was invited by health officials there to help them raise the sale of fruits, which he successfully did when it went up by at least 29 per cent. But his mission hasn’t come easily. From the advent of TV, children’s entertainment has mostly thrived on junk food branding and advertising. Scheving has spent over ten years fighting junk food companies that wanted to advertise with his show. “I know it is sending away millions in funding, but I would rather be bankrupt than mess up kid’s health,” says Scheving who also confesses that he has never had a beer or got drunk in his life. Policymakers Today, his efforts have at least paid off; he is usually mobbed by children wherever he goes, fighting to give him apples and other fruits. One time at an airport, he was stopped by security personnel who had recognised him. “They pleaded with me to walk on my hands,” he says with a laugh. This was just the beginning, though. A hotel room attendant would later beg him to take a picture with his son. But before he could, the hotel’s lobby was jam-packed with over 160 children demanding to see Sportacus. But it is not just fame that the show has brought with it. Coming from the little town Borgarnes in Iceland, Scheving has been able to meet the who-is-who amongst the world’s policymakers to push for healthy lifestyles.

    Magnus leads local Mauritius kids in a workout

    Lazy Town supports initiatives dedicated to fighting childhood obesity and has collaborated with governments and influential people such as Michelle Obama on the Let’s Move campaign, the UK Department of Health, Cecilia Morel, the First Lady of Chile and Felipe Calderon, the former president of Mexico, among others. A father of three, Scheving feels like he is a parent to hundreds of children. During an interview with The Guardian newspaper, he revealed that his backyard was always full of children running around. “They are all friends of my children,” he said. He derives satisfaction from seeing a healthy and happy child. He recollects, for instance, one of his live shows in which a boy in a wheelchair took him by surprise. “He seemed to be following the moves [on stage] while seating in the audience. So I invited him onto the stage,” he says. After the song was done, and before Scheving could sign out with his signature phrase, the boy snapped it out, with a hero’s look on his face, by roaring: “I am Sportacus.”

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