The upcoming EU White Paper on sports should focus on amateur sports says MEP Hannu Takkula in an interview with EURACTIV.
MEP Hannu Takkula is the Parliament’s rapporteur on the Commission proposal for a programme entitled “Citizens for Europe” to promote active European citizenship (2007-2013). The programme’s adoption is in its final stages and should be operational from 2007. The Culture and Education Committee, lead by Takkula, has introduced a number of amendments that aim to take sports more into account.
EURACTIV asked Takkula to shed light on the background of the Active European Citizenship programme and explain why he thinks sport should be included in it.
What is the aim of the Active European Citizenship Programme?
The idea for this programme came from the fact that the current programmes (the youth programme, culture programme, life-long learning programme) are too elitist. In general, the EU programmes are somewhat designed more for the ‘active population’ (students or people involved in civic activities) and do not necessarily reach an ordinary citizen somewhere, for example, far north of Finland.
The Active European Citizenship Programme aims to go to the grass-roots level and inspire the people not normally interested in the EU. The aim is to move the masses – it is about bringing EU programmes closer to the people and that way strengthening the European identity.
What is the role of sports in this programme?
Its main role is in the fight against racism and xenophobia. It has been recognised that sports is a good tool for this. However, this statement has remained at the level of a declaration. That is why I wanted the Parliament to amend the Commission’s proposal and include sports in this programme, to make sure that we don’t stay at the stage of ‘just talking’ about how sport is good in connecting people, but that we actually go forward and start to implement it. We already have some tools such as town-twinning to do that, so why not use these?
The basic idea is to combat elitism. Think again of a little town in Northern Finland and just imagine how many people would show up in a meeting on life-long learning at town hall, whereas a sports event would move masses.
What type of sports-related projects can actually make people feel more European?
For example, sports clubs from different regions can organise an event or a competition which then brings a lot of people together. It is not at all the same thing as when regional politicians get together to talk lifelong-learning in some conference. Sport clubs can get together across borders or exchange coaching experience and players. Different sports associations already have European level networks and contacts, individual local sports clubs don’t.
Another possibility would be high-visibility events. I propose a European sports day, that amateur-level sports associations would mobilise and that would move the whole of Europe move. Implementation would naturally then depend on member states’ willingness.
Should sports be integrated in other EU programmes?
As sport has no legal base in the Treaties, the only way to get sports in EU programmes is to do it through various programmes in other sectors. My draft report wants to put sports in the Active European Citizenship Programme 2007-2013. Sport plays an important role in fighting prejudice, intolerance, racism and xenophobia as well as in the integration of immigrants. Therefore, I think that sports should become an integral part of EU cultural programmes.
How, in practice, will these kind of activities reach even the most eurosceptic and reinforce their European identity?
Eurosceptics always say that EU is of no use and ‘it just cost us a lot of money’. Sport can be a means for them to participate in Europe via their sports clubs and do something together with neighbouring clubs, all funded by the EU. This is a way for the EU to show that it wants to bring people together and be involved in issues close to the people, and also that you don’t need to be a mayor or a member of a city council to be able to participate in a European project, as is the case today.
The current budget proposal, 235 million euro, seems small considering the programme’s ambitions. What is the expected share for sports?
The budget, 235 million euro for the whole 2007-2013 programme, is very small. Sport will get around four to six million euro per year, which will enable the funding of a couple of projects per country. You need to know that in the council, many sports ministers were against my amendments as they thought that the member states should take care of these activities at national level.
We don’t have enough money yet, but it is a good start. And I hope very much that sports will soon have a legal basis in the EU. After, we can really start supporting sports and, in particular, amateur sports. I hope that sports will be on a legal basis once the talks on the Constitution are reopened in 2008-2009.
What do you think of the up-coming White Paper on sports and the division between amateur and professional sport?
This is a very difficult question. If you take a country like Finland, there is hardly any professional sport. And when you start talking about professional sport, there is suddenly only one sport – football. Professional sport in Europe is limited to football, cycling following somewhere behind. It is thus limited to sports where there’s big money.
What will be the problem, then, if the White Paper on sports is biased towards professional sports?
Here, the big thing is to know whether professional sport is in fact sport or an industry. And if you look at the big football clubs, for example the Premier League clubs in the UK, it is all about the ‘football industry’ and the ‘entertainment industry’. Having said that, the majority of sports activities falls into the scope of amateur sport.
Professional sport does not need any subsidies from state or elsewhere, perhaps just some regulations to give common rules, nor do its problems concern amateur sport. National athletics federations don’t have money-laundering problems as they are fighting for each cent, and amateur sports associations don’t have doping problems. Professional sport and amateur sport are two completely different worlds.
The EU White Paper on sport should thus focus on amateur sport?
Yes, and it should include issues for civil society to discuss sport as a means to reinforce European identity. The starting point of the Commission for preparing the paper has, from that perspective, not been the best one.
It is important to separate professional sports from amateur sports. Amateur sports make the people move. And we should keep in mind that professional sports are just a minor part of sports as a whole, even if it makes the headlines continually, and that it is more the ‘entertainment industry’ than anything else.