Let’s kick this piece off with a bold statement: sport has the power to change the world, and a European sports model is a European success story. With more clichés about the power of sport, the crowd might already be tempted to leave … but please stay with me. Indeed, sport is not just world-changing, but for many people in Europe sport is life-changing.
It has an unrivalled power to unite people, regardless of race, religion, gender, culture or socioeconomic status. It maintains health and happiness and teaches us valuable skills, whatever our age. Sport is also an increasingly important economic activity, generating 2.1 percent of EU GDP and providing jobs for almost six million people.
Yet sport in Europe is also at an important crossroads. More than ten years have passed since the Lisbon Treaty gave the EU a mandate to act in sport. The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for the sport sector, especially at grassroots.
“Sport is much more than a game or an asset. Our model of sport must - at all times - champion and embody our European values”
This questions what sport truly is; is it a game, a social good, part of our cultural heritage, an asset for commercialisation, the heart of healthy communities? In Europe, we see sport as unique, providing specific values and serving social and societal functions. Our model of sport is based on values, where grassroots and professional sport co-exist in solidarity.
As European policy makers, we must lead in keeping sport true to its functions, while preparing the sector for the next decade, and do so in the interests of all in Europe. For this reason, I was honoured to lead the report on the future of European sport policy, which was recently adopted by near unanimity in the Culture and Education Committee.
Working with colleagues and consulting with sports stakeholders, we dived into issues such as modernising governance, strengthening the European dimension and preparing for systemic challenges such as post-pandemic revival, innovation development and the climate crisis. The report makes concrete proposals and recommendations.
First, increased cooperation between institutions and a dialogue with sports stakeholders. Here, I propose establishing regular, structured and high-level cooperation, led by the European Commission to improve accountability in EU sport policy. Second, sport must benefit from EU policies on health, employment, youth, education, internal market or environment.
Sport policy therefore requires further mainstreaming and coordination. Sport also needs greater visibility at EU level; a simple but effective way to achieve this is to restore ‘Sport’ to the title of the relevant Commissioner and creating an EU Sport Coordinator to enhance cross-sectoral cooperation. In addition, there needs to be a new appreciation of governance, combining fresh commitments to integrity with actions on gender equality and inclusiveness to improve representation of stakeholders in decision-making bodies.
Sport is for everyone, and we need to ensure that it is safe, accessible, inclusive and equal for all. To achieve this, we need to maintain the balance between pursuing sports commercial interests and protecting its vital social and societal roles. In addition, to address the growing problems of obesity and inactivity, particularly among young people, we propose physical activity classes in and out of schools every day.
We also need to champion the values-based sport model in Europe. This means protecting the principles of solidarity, fairness and inclusiveness with open competitions, protecting sport from threats such like the attempted European football Super League. The report opposes such ‘breakaway competitions’ that endanger the coherence of the overall sports ecosystem.
Echoing concerns over proposals to change the frequency of the football World Cup and the risk it poses to the health of athletes and sport as a whole, the report states that sports organisations must respect the established frequency of major international events.
“As European policy makers, we must lead in keeping sport true to its functions, while preparing the sector for the next decade, and do so in the interests of all in Europe”
Furthermore, it must not serve dictators, and the report also calls for countries who repeatedly breach fundamental rights to be prevented from hosting major sporting events.
Sport and society require a strong and inclusive recovery. I propose concrete mechanisms to get the sector back on track. It should benefit from an increased share of funding from both cohesion policy and from the new Recovery and Resilience Facility.
This is why securing further financing for sport is so important. My report further calls for an increased - and binding - financial redistribution between professional and grassroots ranks. This is vital to support less profitable competitions that are important for the long-term development of sport.
As a team, we covered every blade of grass, making targeted proposals to make a real difference. We must now support and guide the sports sector while holding it accountable to the required values and standards. After all, the EU is much more than an economic market it represents shared European values, in the same way that sport is much more than a game or an asset. Our model of sport must - at all times - champion and embody our European values.