Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Education and Culture

A “real value for money” project is
how commissioner Reding describes the European Year of
Education through Sport in an interview with
EURACTIV.

Interview:

In an interview with EURACTIV, the outgoing
European Education and Culture Commissioner
Viviane Reding reflects on the virtues of the
European Year of Education through Sport (EYES)
and how the Commission can contribute to sports
policy across the EU. The brainchild of MEP
Doris Pack, EYES 2004 features a range of
national and community-wide projects promoting
the educational values of sport.

This year is the European Year of
Education through Sport (EYES). Can you tell
EURACTIV more about what this is all
about?

The European Year of Education through Sport
is one element in the activities we offer young
people. The idea came out of Brussels but the
actions are being undertaken by civil society.
It’s wonderful to see how in all Member
States, cities, villages, clubs, schools – even
without receiving European money – have started
to work for European Year of Education through
Sport. So it’s a real initiative which has
captured the imagination of civil society.
Which is proof that if, as a European
politician, you have the right idea, then
people take this idea forwards.

As far as EYES is concerned, is it a
case of too many projects and too little
money?

Look, in all our Member States and at EU
level there is always too little money for
young people, education, sports and culture
while lots of money goes to the economy and
other things. Everyone complains – the
ministers and the Commission and the young
people. But just look at how this youth
programme and these youth projects are being
run with very little money. They can be and are
being carried out by young people with so much
talent, ideas, energy and joy – well it’s
real value for money. So the cost benefit
analysis is very positive.

One understanding of the
‘European Model of Sport’ is that it
balances out amateur, grassroots sport with
elite, professional sport and features more
open competition than the ‘US Model’
which has no relegation or promotion, salary
caps and a draft system [with the bottom
teams taking first pick from the new young
talent]. Is the EU swimming against the tide
by trying to uphold a rather idealistic
‘European Model of Sport’, is it
treading water between amateurism and
professionalism or does it need to come up
with a new and more pragmatic model?

I think you need both. I think you need the
professionals to make young people feel the
need to do sport. So the positive thing about
professional sport is that it is a wonderful
tool to get young people to move. But sport is
not just about big money and stars. Sport is
about social values, education – ‘Move your
body, stretch your mind’, the slogan for
the European Year of Education through Sport –
is very significant in that sense. Sport is a
question of public health. Statistics show that
our young people are overweight because
they’re only moving their fingers to
operate computer games. So it’s high time
to get them to run behind a ball.

And it’s about citizenship. I was very
impressed to see how many projects have been
launched in villages for instance. It was
impressive to see how, through the concept of
EYES, they try to make a positive contribution
to poor neighbourhoods where there’s a lot
of violence, to channel this violence into
sport and into responsibility and friendship.
So sport is a real tool for citizenship. This
is something I wanted to convey this year.
Sport is at different levels – you cannot say
we need just the one and not the other. And one
of the reasons why so many stars have been our
patrons this year is to help us – Amélie
Mauresmo, for instance, a tennis star who
played in the French Open recently. I was
sitting with her on the floor with hundreds of
young people asking questions about sport and
how she manages. She was sitting there talking
to the kids and lifting their spirits. In all
our countries, the stars have taken the time to
talk to the kids.

In the UK, the Premier Leagu e has done
wonderful work in the social field where kids
from poor areas who’ve never opened a book
in their lives, were brought into stadium,
handed books by football stars. And the
football stars saw them again when they had
read the books. So they actually read the books
and brought their parents inside to read the
books. So, through the instrument of sport we
can really convey positive messages about
citizenship and education.

Massively indebted football clubs,
cheating (eg the ‘professional foul’)
in sport, doping and hooliganism appear to be
three of the worst vices afflicting modern
sport. Can the Commission make a really big
impact in these issues, and if so,
how?

The Commission by itself no because Brussels
isn’t responsible for everything. Brussels
is responsible for what is in the treaties. And
it is not written in the treaties that we have
to regulate the income of football clubs. We
have regulated the international transfer rules
because that was international and working
rights. But what they pay those guys and the
fully indebted clubs that use even more money
than anyone else could imagine to buy extra
players – that is the responsibility of the
football federations.

We and the European Court of Justice said
very clearly that sports governing bodies have
autonomy. Autonomy is not just about right but
also about responsibility. They have the
responsibility to do it, they should do it and
I know that they have started sending out the
rules so that heavily indebted clubs can no
longer participate in championships and cannot
buy footballers. They’re thinking about
having a salary cap. It’s their
responsibility to cling to European and
national rules but to have the rules of the
game established by themselves. As an example
of what we do, during Euro 2004 we’ll have
a team of young European volunteers to help and
show the positive image of young people who are
not going there to riot but to give a helping
hand.

Given its problems communicating with
its public, do you have any thoughts on how
the EU could communicate good news via
sport?

For instance our young volunteers during
Euro 2004 will be projecting a positive image.
But I cannot ask young sportsmen and women to
take political responsibility. If they want to
do so – and they showed during the EYES
[European Year of Education through Sport] that
they do by coming to help and giving positive
messages to young people and saying that they
want a clean sport and that they’d had
enough of cheating and doping. So they can help
us but I cannot force them to.

 

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