Sport has a magic touch. It offers common ground for people from different backgrounds and aspirations to meet and interact on an equal basis, respecting the same rules.
It can bring a sense of wellbeing and personal fulfilment to everyone, regardless of their social or economic background. It is a valuable way to live a healthy and active lifestyle and to ensure social inclusion, helping address the challenges facing European society today.
Yet research and surveys show that too many people still fail to engage in sport. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for poor health.
Indeed, a recent Eurobarometer survey on sport and physical activity revealed worrying figures: nearly half of all EU citizens say they never take exercise or play sport. This means that many people in Europe fail to benefit from the positive impact of sport and exercise on their physical and psychological wellbeing.
The fact that they don’t presents a huge cost for society as a whole, in terms of impacts on national health budgets, for example. The European Week of Sport is one response to this challenge.
This year, the European Commission is organising its fifth edition of this initiative, dedicated to promoting sport and physical activity across Europe. The overarching campaign theme and hashtag is “#BeActive”, and aims to encourage everyone to be active, not just during the Week, but also all year long.
The European Week of Sport has a genuinely European character. The Week is the result of effective and enthusiastic cooperation between individuals and organisations from all over the continent, far beyond the borders of the European Union. It allows initiatives at European, national and local level to come together in a special way.
“Irrespective of age, background or fitness level, everyone can find something to help them build a healthier lifestyle”
This Week will be the largest ever, with 47 partner associations in 42 countries and regions from Portugal to Ukraine, from Finland to Malta. We hope to surpass the 2018 record in terms of participants. Last year, 13 million people took part in 50,000 events; as sports enthusiasts, we always aim to do even better.
Most importantly, the Week is about sport for all. Irrespective of age, background or fitness level, everyone can find something to help them build a healthier lifestyle.
An impressive variety of activities will be organised during the Week with the help of our partners. These will feature everything from open water swims in the Tagus River to salsa classes in the centre of London; from non-competitive runs across cities to the installation of high-performance recyclable vinyl in the colours of the European flag in the very heart of Europe – the Schuman roundabout in Brussels.
Passersby will be able to try out different disciplines, from fencing to martial arts, yoga to cricket and even Bollywood dancing. We will kick off this year’s action on 23 September in Espoo, Finland, in a sports park where almost 10,000 school children will have the opportunity to #BeActive and try different sports and physical activities.
Our #BeActive Night - a unique European flagship event, aimed at showing the fun of being active with thousands of other people across Europe - will be held on Saturday, 28 September.
“Last year, 13 million people took part in 50,000 events; as sports enthusiasts, we always aim to do even better”
The European Week of Sport is supported by the Erasmus+ programme. However, this is not the only sports action the programme funds. In fact, funding for projects promoting physical activity has been steadily increasing.
In 2019 alone, we are co-funding some 250 European sports projects with a total of around €49 million. I am confident that the future will bring even more substantial funds under the new Erasmus programme.
Let me finish with an inspiring story about how embracing sport can change people’s lives for the better.
John McAvoy was an armed robber; he owned a sawn-off shotgun when he was 16, which he used in holdups across London. He ended up being sentenced to life imprisonment and spent the better part of a decade behind bars before gaining parole.
It was in prison that he found his new life through sport, by working out on the prison rowing machine. Within 16 months, he had broken three indoor world records: the fastest marathon on an indoor rowing machine, the record for the longest continuous row and the furthest distance rowed over 24 hours – all while behind bars.
The day after he was released in 2012, McAvoy went to the London Rowing Club to continue his training and turn his back on crime for good.He set his sights on the triathlon and, at 36, travels the world competing, giving speeches and hosting workshops.
He is also one of our #BeActive Ambassadors supporting the objectives of the European Week of Sport, and very proud to be one. “This is what sport has done to my life”, he said recently at a reception at the European Commission, “Imagine what it can do to yours”.