Why the EU should treat sport as more than just a leisure activity

The physical and mental benefits of doing sport during these trying times are indispensable, so let’s give back and provide more support for a sector that has taken a huge hit, writes Marc Tarabella.
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By Marc Tarabella

Marc Tarabella (BE, S&D) is co-chair of Parliament’s Bureau of the Sports Group

09 Oct 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world in a sudden and dramatic manner and its impacts on the health and daily life of European citizens have been immense. The sports sector is no exception.

This crisis has highlighted the importance of certain sectors such as agriculture, healthcare and research. It also serves as a reminder for anyone still harbouring doubts of the importance of certain practices, such as hygiene in everyday life.

During the lockdown period, the only outdoor activity permitted for a good number of us was doing sport, which gave us a means to reinvigorate ourselves not only physically but also psychologically.

At present, a considerable number of patients who have fallen victim to Coronavirus find themselves barred from physical exercise, while many doctors recommend rehabilitation by sport, a practice already being used for patients suffering from cancer.

It is clear that doing sports has the power to help citizens and society at large; it is an indispensable tool in offsetting the negative effects of the health crisis. The benefits to health, not only by improving mental wellbeing but also the social aspects of doing sports, make it a must in light of our present circumstances

“European sport is not just Champions League football; think of all the small associations that, without much in the way of resources, still allow anyone and everyone to do sport”

As such, it is crucial that the executive authorities at both national and European level take full account of this state of affairs and provide support for a sector that has suffered heavily due to the Coronavirus crisis. Both amateur and professional sports have been affected across the board.

Everyone has suffered: not only sportspeople and athletes, but also coaches, support personnel, those who give their time voluntarily, and also the companies who now find themselves in a very precarious situation.

European sport is not just Champions League football; think of all the small associations that, without much in the way of resources, still allow anyone and everyone to do sport. They play an essential role in matters of health, in social inclusion, and also in education.

And, let’s face it, there would be no Champions League stars if, at some point in the past, some little club had not allowed these future giants of football to take their first kick of a ball as children. It is the small associations that allow each individual to do sport under very reasonable conditions – they are the backbone of the entire system.

But today it is precisely this crucial link in the chain which is most at risk, because it is the most fragile. All these small associations, which were already struggling to make ends meet even before the crisis, that have been bled dry. They are non-profit, but without any money coming in at all, for months on end, there is a great risk of seeing their numbers decline, and, with their closures, the number of unemployed will rise and the number of sportspeople will fall in tandem.

It is a sad paradox that one of the tools for preventing illness should prove to be one of its most significant victims. So, the message is clear: European sport is in danger and we must do something about it. Any crisis can be transformed into an opportunity.

I was disgusted when I discovered that one of the first budget cuts proposed at the end of July was scrapping European health projects and reducing the scale of research. This is a bad sign. What we are going through with COVID-19 must force the authorities to review their priorities and put health at the top of the list.

Given sport’s undeniable contribution in preventive healthcare, this sector must be equally taken into account and accorded the value it deserves. There are so many lines of approach which can be taken.

For example, rethinking the place of sport in schools; allowing the structural and European sources of funding to support projects associated with sport and general wellbeing; easing the tax burden for entities which promote sports activities, and alleviating the economic and social consequences of the health crisis which this sector has suffered.

In other words, it is essential that the authorities recognise sport as being much more than just a leisure activity; it is a sector of general public benefit. This is one of the key issues that I plan to bring to the attention of the European Parliament, alongside my colleagues from the Sports Group and all the associations that support us.

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