APELS: Media focus on elite sports ‘overshadows social role’


Elite sports deflect media attention away from the educational and social roles of sport, argued Nathalie Rossel, co-founder of the French Agency for Education through Sport, in an interview with EURACTIV.

Nathalie Rossel is the co-founder and person in charge of European relations at the ‘Agence pour l’Education par le Sport’ (APELS), a French agency supporting education through sport. 

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

What does education through sport mean, and what exa
ctly is APELS is doing in this field? 

Education through sport means the use of sport as a tool to facilitate education. Sport is not integrational by itself, there is a need to create conditions for it to become so. Sport can be a support of global projects for people. 

Since 1996, the Education through Sport Agency (APELS) has been taking action with its network in favour of contributing to people’s education and social and professional integration through physical and sporting activities. People weaken more and more as society seems to deprive them of education, social cohesion and social and professional integration. 

APELS aims to develop three programmes of actions on a local, national and European scale: 

  • MAKE US DREAM: A call for projects allows us to spot good local practices and to favour their development thanks to technical, financial and promotional support. 
  • EDUCASPORT: All actions linked to the sharing, exchange and capitalisation of know-how (events and publications). 
  • ANOVASPORT: The development of knowledge on the scope of education through sport (research, studies and experimentation). 

How can education through sport be promoted and what is holding it back? 

Education through sport can be promoted by all institutions working in sport. Sport cannot be limited to the promotion of performance. Federation, central government, associations…each of these should have a policy that encourages the use of sport as a tool for integration and education. 

Sport has a specific place in the world: it is one of the rare domains with universal recognition of its rules. It can facilitate dialogue for example between people from different cultural backgrounds. 

What were the main outcomes of the APELS conference in November on ‘Sport and diversity’ – in particular related to education through sport? 

APELS and its Scientific and Technical Committee have drawn up seven proposals for initiatives, and have presented initiatives that are already in place within the context of the European development of APELS. 

The first is defining education through sport on a European scale. In order to progress and to strengthen initiatives, it would seem to be important that we define more closely what we mean by this term, which too often is abstract for people. Although the questions below are not exhaustive, are we talking about sports education in schools? About education through sport? Health education? Physical education through sport? Improving living together by means of sport? Promoting inter-cultural dialogue through sport? 

It is important to be precise about what we are talking about, so that we can define our objectives. 

One example of an initiative could be the setting up of a European working group including players from various sectors (researchers, ground-level players, national and European institutions, sports players, the public, businesses and the media), which could have the task of better defining education through sport in Europe. 

A second initiative is about  identifying and constituting a network of European players mobilised around education through sport. It is important to list the various national or regional players who have a role in defining and developing sporting practices in the various environments (schools, clubs, associations and independents) in order to increase exchanges and meetings between the various types of European players (associated players, clubs, universities, business and public bodies, etc) and to develop and promote local and regional exchanges around education through sport, by means of collaborations, exchanges, studies and intervention programmes, particularly by making use of twinning. 

We also wish to see promotion of the emergence of education policies within European federations. Few European federations develop a policy of education through sport with particular links to the territories (particularly regions and cities). Some federations put in place regular provisions with a view to major championships. It would be beneficial to promote the emergence of perennial policies for education through sport from European federations. 

Promoting media enhancement of education through sport initiatives in Europe is anther initiative. Sport’s media visibility is still […] self-centred at the highest level in all the countries of Europe. This fact makes it difficult to develop and promote the educational and social role of sport, which is nevertheless still at the heart of doing sport. 

It would be beneficial to look at how this topic is treated in the media and to define tools aimed at improving the visibility of the players involved in education through sport. It would be interesting to develop journalists’ awareness. A European award for reporting education through sport could be developed together with the European institutions. 

Also, the legibility and sources of European finance (public and private) in favour of education through sport initiatives needs improving. European finance is still hard to access and communicating information about it would reward the efforts of local players, who are still encountering problems in defining the various types of European finance (youth programmes, European programmes, FSE and private sources, etc). 

European institutions could use networks that are clearly identified in the countries to transmit the information relating to the available sources of finance. This would allow the number of initiatives and European exchange and meetings projects to be increased. 

We also wish to encourage university exchanges, and instigate and enhance comparative studies and European scientific partnerships. The field of research in the sector of education through sport is not that well-developed in Europe, thereby hampering comprehension and innovation. 

However, it also seems difficult to conduct truly objective European research into the questions of integration and education through sport by an exclusively national team of researchers. To avoid the study having to include too many national categories of thought, cross-disciplinary and European research teams have to be created, which include researchers belonging to the various nation-state models and university traditions. 

Here’s an example of an initiative: 

It would be interesting to disseminate amongst the public the main results of research into education and integration through sport by European researchers and to promote the creation of university and European research teams. 

Finally, we need to promote meetings and exchanges between young researchers. In all areas of European research, young researchers are the future of tomorrow’s reflection. It is vital that we set up meeting and exchange spaces for young sports science researchers throughout Europe. Developing these practices and networks will help enhance how these problems and inter-European exchanges, such as European publications, are tackled. 

In the mid-term, this will also allow the development of education through sport in Europe, promoted by the results of the most recent surveys carried out in each country. 

If you could make a wish and have something happen overnight in the field of education through sport – either at national or European level – what would it be? 

To see these proposals followed by all national and European institutions! 


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