Sport can help bring Europeans together, education expert says

Laurent Petrynka, president of the International School Sport Federation (ISF) and education expert. [ISF]

This article is part of our special report Supporting sports to boost gender equality.

In a period when Europe appears to be increasingly divided, sports can help bring people together and promote social integration, the president of the International School Sport Federation (ISF) and education expert Laurent Petrynka told EURACTIV in an interview.

ISF is the umbrella federation for 118 national school sports organisations across the world, including the EU28. The institution organises multi-sport competitions and events for school students aged between 13 and 18, and Petrynka calls it “the crossing point for education and the sports world”

Petrynka is also the general inspector of national education in the education ministry in France. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Beatriz Rios.

What role do you think the sport should play in children’s education?

It is important to remember that in the building of individuals, both mind and body must work in tandem. Education provides a platform for the progression of important values and social skills in tackling global issues such as inactivity, obesity, unemployment and conflict. Educating youth can help develop and transition them into adulthood, helping create the innovative and driven adults of tomorrow. Sport provides a universal framework for learning values such as fairness, teambuilding, equality, discipline, inclusion, perseverance and respect. These are some of the tools needed to be a responsible citizen in modern day society. So naturally, I hope for the continuous promotion and strengthening of sport in schools.

Can sport be a tool for integration? How?

The practice of sport can be used as a tool to promote social integration and economic development within diverse standings. The European Commission exemplifies the desire to use sport as an aid to unify societies. In 2017 they funded multiple projects around Europe which focused on the integration of refugees and communities around sport. In essence, anyone can participate in sport, as a common interest, it can bring together people from all backgrounds. I hope we will continue to see more projects such as this in the future, especially in a period when Europe appears to be becoming increasingly divided.

What role do you think the EU should have in this area then?

The Erasmus+ programme, in particular, has the position and resources to reach as large an audience as possible. In a time where Europe is becoming increasingly divided, using sport as a tool to educate and bridge social divides that have become more apparent in today’s society is a huge opportunity. Sport can unify individuals under a common interest, breaking barriers and changing mindsets. Implementing sport as a tool for education is more than an opportunity for the EU to further develops. It is an opportunity to unify itself.

How is the ISF involved in the Erasmus + Sport programme?

The ISF has been closely working with the Erasmus + Sport programme of the European Commission since 2016 when we started to apply for project grants. In 2016 we organised the Volunteering with School Sport project thanks to the support of the programme. We have had an even stronger collaboration with the Erasmus + sport programme since we started to organise the ‘She Runs’ project as a non-profit sport event.

What is ‘She Runs’ about?

The ISF “She Runs, Active Girls’ Lead” project held in Paris between the 12 and 15 March aims to promote health, empowerment and leadership for girls through school sport. Along with a non-competitive run involving 2000 girls composed of 1500 locals and 500 international participants from 35 different countries, the event is holding multiple sports, educational, cultural and entrepreneurial activities. This project will exemplify the potential of sport and school sport in developing youth; whilst in this case, also addressing gender equality.

Do we lack girls in sports or just media attention for their accomplishments?

Both statements have a lot of truth behind them. The World Health Organisation stated in 2010 that 84% of adolescent girls were insufficiently physically active. This is, of course, something ISF wishes to specifically address. In turn, the lack of participation by girls in sport leads to fewer girls taking sport with them into adulthood, which is noticeable with the quantity of sports teams participating for both girls and women being lower than that of boys and men. The level of media attention certain sports receives also plays a part. Football is well known to be a predominantly male-driven sport. However, with the 2019 Women’s World Cup just around the corner, there is a great opportunity to build on the success of recent years, such as the huge amount of people who watched the last Women’s World Cup Final in 2015.

How do you think sport can help to empower girls?

By sport, ISF also includes physical activity which can be done for fun without a competitive framework. Both have the opportunities to be positive tools in the empowerment of girls. Participation has the possibility to bring people and communities from all backgrounds together, creating a positive environment through sport to increase the appeal for girls to participate. This use of sport and physical activity as a tool can help make it possible to break down gender norms and help girls to build life skills whilst improving their overall health.

With the European elections coming up, what would you ask the political parties to put on their agenda, as the president of the ISF?

Among the 118 ISF members around the world, we have 28 EU members in our network, which means that the upcoming European elections can have a major impact not only on our members but on us as an international sports organisation. The European Commission has already reinforced its level of commitment to its development programme Erasmus+ having doubled its budget for the 2021 – 2027 period. This announcement is fantastic news, especially at a time where it was recently brought to light by the Eurobarometer that the number of Europeans who never exercise has increased from 42% to 46%. This further certifies the need to reach the younger generations through education, using sport as a tool for implementation. This would be my message to the political parties involved in this year’s European elections to not forget how key youth are in our development.

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