EU sport programme key to promote social values of sport

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A potential future EU competence on sport should be based on social, educational and citizenship values, argues a sports NGO in an interview with EURACTIV.

Nicolas Gyss is the secretary general of Sport et Citoyenneté
, a European association aiming to stimulate study and debate of sport’s societal role.

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

What will the Lisbon Treaty and an EU competence on sport mean for the sporting community? What will change? 

Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty [current Article 149] gives the EU a competence for sport and [allows it to] undertake actions to support, coordinate or supplement the policies of member states. If it is ratified and enters into force, it will have huge symbolic significance: for the first time in European history, sport will become a EU competence. 

It will also have two main practical consequences. An EU ‘sport programme’ should be launched to provide financial support for organisations active in the sector as well as for sport-related projects that could build a bridge between sport and its social impact for European citizens. Such a programme will be a key tool to promote the social values of sport in line with the raison d’être of Sport et Citoyenneté

Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty also recognises the specific nature of sport. Even if it will not bring solutions to all problems faced by the sport movement in the organisation of the sector and of competitions, it might eventually impact upon the way EU law is applied to sports rules and bring elements of legal certainty to sports stakeholders. 

What does EU competence on sport mean for an NGO like Sport et Citoyenneté? 

Sport et Citoyenneté is a European association that aims to stimulate study and debate of sport’s role in society and promote its basic values. The wording of article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty emphasises these basic values and the specific characteristics of sport. Thus an EU competence for sport for us means new opportunities to study and to promote the social, educational and citizenship values of sport in Europe. 

Moreover, we hope it will allow financing through a sport programme that will help organisations like Sport et Citoyenneté to organise themselves at European level and exchange information and best practices. EU programmes have proven their effectiveness in other sectors with a high social value, such as the Lifelong Learning (LLL) and Erasmus programmes in the education field, and the Culture and Media programmes in the cultural sector. 

In addition, the EU competence on sport is an important step forward as it gives a legal basis to sport and recognises the specificity of sport, which Sport et Citoyenneté fully supports. 

What kind of sports competence do you want EU to have? 

Today, the EU has no legal competence on sport. Following the Commission’s July 2007 White Paper on Sport and its Pierre de Coubertin action plan, sport and its specific characteristics are being increasingly taken into account at EU level. However, the White Paper remains a policy document without any legal value. Sport et Citoyenneté would like the EU to have real competence in the sports sector in order to implement a sports policy based on the social values of sport. In this respect, it is essential that the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. 

What do you expect the EU and the Commission to do with this new competence?

The EU and the Commission are increasingly involved in the sports sector, which generates a lot of expectations, fears and hopes from sport stakeholders. Our association primarily expects that the EU and the Commission will fully take into account the citizenship aspects of sport. The right balance between the economic and social characteristics of sport has to be found. 

When the Commission rules on an economic activity, for instance gambling, it is crucial that it considers the consequences of the ruling on the organisation of sport and does not handle the case as it would in any other sector. It is fundamental to always keep in mind that sport is not a sector like any other. In the case of gambling, the consequences of a reform for the financing and organisation of amateur sport have to be assessed before any decision is taken. 

In his contribution to the third issue of our scientific journal on “Europe and sport law”, EU Commissioner Ján Fige?’ said that the aim of article 165 was to take better account of the sport sector’s needs and specific interests. We hope that this is indeed what the Commission will do. In this respect, there are many measures that could be taken at EU level.

In order to protect young sportswomen and sportsmen, a European label for training centres could be created, as recommended in the recent study on the training of young sportswomen and sportsmen in Europe undertaken for the Commission.

We also expect the Commission to deal with the question of sport and health. It is estimated that almost 22 million children are overweight in the EU and each year this figure is growing by 400,000. Studies show that sport has undoubtedly positive results on health and the fight against obesity. 

The European institutions should also deal with the issue of women and sport, for instance the questions of equal remuneration for sportswomen and sportsmen, access to sport for every woman, or women’s representation within sports governing bodies. The fourth issue of our scientific journal, which has just been published, deals with those questions. Moreover, Sport et Citoyenneté will soon organise a round table on the issue in the European Parliament, chaired by MEP Emine Bozkurt. 

How would you position your association’s role between the sporting community and EU law?

Sport et Citoyenneté is a European platform. Our network and our audience are made up of athletes, policymakers, academics, and governmental and non-governmental institutions at both European and national level. Our role between the sporting community and EU law is to stimulate and nurture debate, thanks to our scientific committee made of 45 specialists in sport-related issues and fields. It is also to inform sport stakeholders and citizens through our website, our blog and our scientific journal.

Our ambition is to play the role of an information and network platform at European level and to involve as many organisations and citizens as possible. We are very open to any contribution and discussion. 

What can you tell us about the French EU Presidency’s plans for the Lisbon Treaty and sport?

At an informal meeting of EU sports ministers on 12 August, the French Presidency stated that it had three main concerns regarding the sport sector:

  • To highlight the role of sport in economic development;
  • to emphasise the social role of sport, and;
  • to contribute to good governance in sport.

Those questions will be discussed with representatives of the sports movement and sports ministers during the European Sport Forum and the informal meeting of sports ministers in Biarritz on 26-27 November. Our association will follow upcoming developments and take part in the discussions.

The French EU Presidency is pushing for the Lisbon Treaty to be ratified with as little delay as possible and we hope it will be successful in this endeavour so that it can enter into force as soon as possible. 

Should there be a ‘sporting exception’ as proclaimed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy? 

Nicolas Sarkozy claims that sport should be subject to a regime of “sporting exception”, close to the cultural exception. We do not disagree with the concept but in our view the priority is to recognise the specificity of sport in the Treaty and to guarantee it is fully taken into consideration in any policy impacting on the organisation of sport. Once specificity is ensured, we will be able to discuss the sporting exception. 

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