Parliament is once again marking the European Week of Sport, which this year is devoted to the link between physical activity and mental health. This theme is particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. At a time when we are all more vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety, sport has proven to be a way of helping us keep fit both physically and mentally.
The health of the population is a top priority that requires the highest levels of protection, especially during challenging times like the Coronavirus crisis. Sport has an important role to play in addressing major social challenges, such as the lack of physical activity and ageing populations.
To help Europeans remain physically active even under these difficult circumstances, the European Commission has launched a campaign - #BeActiveAtHome - to promote new ways of exercising, keeping citizens active and supporting each other during this difficult time.
Sport has always been a large part of my life as both a professional football player and now as a policymaker in the European Parliament. As a member of Parliament’s Culture and Education, Youth and Sport (CULT) Committee, I work closely with other colleagues to shape EU policy on sport and increase the role of the European institutions in this area.
“At a time when we are all more vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety, sport has proven to be a way of helping us keep fit both physically and mentally”
I think that the Sports Group, which I co-chair in the European Parliament, serves as an excellent platform for achieving these goals and that’s why I am involved in its work. The sports sector has been neglected by policymakers for far too long despite its positive influence on the health of the population, the millions of citizens it employs and its contribution to the European economy.
Indeed, sport is an employment intensive activity in the EU and more than five million people working in the sector are at risk of losing their jobs. Sporting events are an important source of revenue for sport organisations, but the crisis has meant that these events had to be cancelled across the EU and at every level.
Moreover, sports organisations are suffering from a loss of revenue from several other sources, such as local sponsors, and membership fees. Thus, many sports organisations and clubs are forced to lay off their employees while their future after the crisis is very uncertain.
Clearly, the current situation is having a devastating social and economic impact on the sports sector. Physical activity is crucial in times of crisis both for maintaining mental and physical health. It is therefore crucial that we support the sports sector by allocating the structural funds, and especially the European Social Funds, to support grassroots sports and to maintain sports facilities.
When the situation stabilises, many citizens, especially young people, will be able to restart their sporting activities and continue maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is critical that we develop recovery strategies and provide financial support to the sports sector.
This is particularly important for the small, local clubs, leagues and sports organisations that are most affected by the crisis and would not be able to continue their activities. What is more, further emphasis on sport and physical activity needs to be considered during the discussions on financing Erasmus+ and the structural funds in the new programming period. In the CULT Committee, we are asking to triple the budget to €45bn for 2021-2027.
Since 2014, the Erasmus+ programme has been funding sport activities of all kinds across Europe. With a budget of €265m over seven years, the sport strand of the Erasmus+ programme supports sport authorities, including grassroots organisations that want to cooperate with partner organisations in other EU countries or set up not-for-profit sporting events at European, national, regional and local levels.
“The sports sector has been neglected by policymakers for far too long despite its positive influence on the health of the population, the millions of citizens it employs and its contribution to the European economy”
In the new edition, the share for sport should be raised to two percent. As a former football player and father of three children, I fully support initiatives such as the European Week of Sport. As physical inactivity is growing, we need coordinated action at every level to tackle this situation. In my opinion, physical activity at school should be mandatory and done on a more regular basis. Sport teaches us solidarity, motivation, patience and improves academic performance.
Furthermore, physical activity is an important factor in preserving our health, a point highlighted in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. So, both teamwork and good cross-border cooperation on these issues are key to building a healthier and more inclusive society.
That is why I strongly encourage everyone to take part in the many activities available to us and to take advantage of all the new platforms which give us the opportunity to practice sport at home.