There were some outstanding sporting events this summer, with the Tour de France, the European Athletics Championships in Berlin and of course the Football World Cup in Russia, to name just a few.
We can be proud of how well European athletes performed in these competitions and the way in which they brought entertainment and joy to people around the globe. During the World Cup in particular, we saw how powerful sport can be in bringing people together and creating a sense of community and belonging.
Yet the potential of professional sport goes further than attracting fans and supporters. It can also inspire people to become more physically active or try out a new sport. I hope that we can build on this summer’s sport events with the next edition of the European Week of Sport, which will take place from 22 to 30 September.
Promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles remains one of my key priorities in the field of sport. For good reason, given the increasing levels of inactivity in Europe and the challenges they pose for our societies.
As the latest Eurobarometer survey on sport and physical activity published in March 2018 shows, nearly half of Europeans say that they never exercise or do sport. This has serious implications for people’s health and wellbeing.
Encouraging more people to be active is therefore important. It can help us tackle loneliness, a growing concern in our society. The European Commission’s in-house science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre, is analysing this topic as part of its work on social fairness.
A specific Eurobarometer commissioned by the Centre reveals that even people in good health that do not practice sport are almost twice as likely to report being lonely than those who are active.
In fact, many respondents say that they engage in sport precisely to meet their friends or to make new ones.
This shows the potential of making physical activity part of our daily lives. The European Week of Sport can help us achieve this. It is about inspiring people to be active throughout the year, regardless of age, background or fitness level. This is the fourth edition, and I am very proud of how this initiative has evolved.
Last year, 16 million people took part in more than 37,000 events across Europe. I am convinced that this year’s Week of Sport will be even bigger, thanks in no small part to the growing involvement of our partner organisations and participating countries.
As sport plays an increasingly important role in the EU’s international relations, I decided to invite the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries to take part in the European Week of Sport as of this year. It is great to see that all countries have embraced the idea and will organise national events under the umbrella of the Week.
A novelty this year will be the #BeActive Night, organised a in most participating countries cross Europe on 29 September. People will have the opportunity to discover and try different sport activities available near them with their friends and families, be it in a town square or in a park.
In the case of Croatia, for example, this will be at the historical Pula amphitheatre, complete with light show. The objective is to demonstrate how much fun doing sport and being active can be, and to encourage people to explore new activities that they may wish continue to practise afterwards.
One of the five Irish events for instance, in Ennis, County Clare, will invite participants to try activities such as archery, yoga and wheelchair basketball. It is important that all of these events happen across Europe at the same time so that the Night becomes part of the #BeActive movement.
As the European Week of Sport is growing, so are the Commission’s plans for the broader role of sport. The Erasmus+ programme 2014-2020 remains an extremely useful tool for promoting grassroots sport.
Our proposal for the next Erasmus programme 2021-2027 is even more ambitious: we envisage an overall budget of €30bn, with €550m of this dedicated to sport - double the amount currently available. I am convinced that the European Parliament will recognise the potential of this proposed increase in addressing challenges including physical inactivity, good governance and the integrity of sport.
Sport is not the answer to all of society’s problems, but I truly believe that it can make an important contribution to addressing them. In the meantime, the fourth edition of the European Week of Sport is around the corner. So, let us be active, inspire others and most of all, have fun.