EU sport policy


Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, the EU is starting major preparations to successfully implement Europe's new competence on sport and develop the bloc's first sports programme, to be launched in 2012. 

The European Commission's July 2007 White Paper on Sport was the first 'comprehensive initiative' on sport in the EU. 

The document proposes a number of measures to be implemented and supported by the Commission in three areas:

  • Societal role of sport: Enhancing public health through physical activity, fighting doping, enhancing the role of sport in education, volunteer activities, social inclusion, fighting racism, sport as a tool for development.  
  • Economic dimension of sport: Collection of comparable data, ensuring financial support for grassroots sports organisations;
  • Organisation of sport: The specific nature of sport, free movement, player transfers, players' agents, protection of minors, corruption and money laundering, licensing system for clubs, media rights. 

The proposals are brought together in the 'Pierre de Coubertin' Action Plan, which details 53 concrete proposals for future EU action in these areas.

The proposed actions range from supporting an EU physical activity network to launching a study to assess the sector's contribution to the 'Lisbon Agenda' for growth and jobs in the EU. Others include the fight against corruption, an impact assessment of the activities of players' agents and a conference on licensing systems in football.

The White Paper builds, to a certain extent, on the Independent Review of European Sports  initiated by the UK EU Presidency in 2005 and drafted with the support of EU sports ministers and football governing bodies UEFA and FIFA.

The final version of the review, published in autumn 2006, recommended that the Commission provide clear guidance on the type of 'sports rules' compatible with Community law.

Sport has been an EU competence since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009.

Article 165 of the treaty provides the bloc with a soft competence on sport. 

This means that the European Commission will develop a specific EU sports programme, supported by a budget. The competence also allows for better promotion of sport in other EU policy areas and programmes, such as health and education.

The treaty provisions further give the EU the opportunity to speak with one voice in international forums and vis-à-vis third countries. EU sports ministers will now also meet in official Sports Council meetings. 

The Lisbon Treaty requires the Commission to contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues "while taking account of the specific nature of sport, its structures based on voluntary activity and its social and educational function".

It asks for a European dimension of sport to be developed "by promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions and cooperation between bodies responsible for sports, and by protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportspeople".

EU sport programme

To accompany a broad consultation of member states and stakeholders on implementing the Lisbon Treaty's sport provisions during the first half of 2010, the Commission is starting to draft the EU's first sports programme for 2012-2013.

Meanwhile, preparatory actions in the field of sport will continue to pave the way for the programme in 2010-2011.

According to Michal Krejza, head of the Commission's sports unit, the new competence will help the EU to add value by supporting platforms of exchange and debate, providing legal clarity and co-financing various initiatives. According to Krejza, an EU sports programme could be designed to: 

  • Contribute to the promotion of European values (physical and moral integrity of sportspeople, fairness of competitions): projects could address issues such as doping, racism and the protection of minors;
  • foster the social and educational function of sport: projects could address issues such as gender equality, disability and co-operation between sports organisations;
  • promote the transfer of knowledge, innovation, dialogue and good governance in the sector: projects could address issues such as licensing rules for clubs and the mobility of sports experts; 
  • contribute to the promotion of a physically-active lifestyle: projects could address issues such as promoting healthy lifestyles, and; 
  • foster co-operation with third countries and international organisations in the field of sport. 

The Commission stresses that the 2007 White Paper will remain the cornerstone of its policies.

Commission communication on sport 

On 18 January 2011 the EU executive published a communication on the impact of Lisbon Treaty on sports, entitled 'Developing the European Dimension in Sport'.   

The communication proposed action at EU level in areas where it believes the challenges cannot be sufficiently dealt with by governments alone. These include the societal role of sport, its economic dimension and the organisation of sport in Europe.

It suggested that the EU should sign up to the Anti-Doping Convention of the Council of Europe, develop and implement security arrangements and safety requirements for international sports events, continue making progress towards introducing national targets based on the EU's Physical Activity Guidelines and develop standards for disabled access to sports events and venues.

On economic matters, the Commission called on sports associations to establish mechanisms for the collective selling of media rights to ensure adequate redistribution of revenue.

The EU executive will also seek to address sport-related intellectual property rights, promote exchange of best practice on transparent and sustainable sports financing, monitor the application of state aid law in the field of sport and push for full exploitation of sport-related aspects of the EU's structural funds.

As for sports governance, the Commission will launch a study on transfer rules and issue guidance on "how to reconcile EU rules on the free movement of citizens with the organisation of competitions in individual sports on a national basis," and "consider further action regarding the activities of sports agents".

Positions on the White Paper:

According to Ján Figel'EU commissioner for education, training, culture and youth, the White Paper is not legally binding, but rather "a show of political will to indicate the direction to be followed with regard to sport in the EU". 

"The implementation of the White Paper can help pave the way towards future EU supportive action in the sport sector as the recent European Council has re-opened the possibility of a Treaty provision on sport," Figel' said, adding that a specific Sport Ministerial Council could then be envisaged.

"As agreed in the White Paper, the initiative does not weaken the application of EU law to sports. It means that there is no exclusivity given to sports over EU rules or content of EU law. A case by case approach remains the basis for Commission's control for implementation of EU law," he added.

Belgian centre-right MEP Ivo Belet (EPP-ED), who is drafting a Parliament report on the future of professional football, criticised the White Paper, referring in particular to the absence of "clear rules as regards players' agents".

He also deplored the lack of a clear incentive for "more solidarity in sports" by means of, for example, "opting for the collective selling of TV rights".

"The White Paper on Sports lacks ambition and courage. It undoubtedly contains positive elements, but it does not give a satisfactory answer to the questions raised by the European Parliament and the sports sector," Belet said.

UK Conservative MEPs were even more critical and urged the UK government "to ensure that the White Paper is shelved and a new consultation started to avoid confusion as to who now is responsible for overseeing sport in the UK". 

"Politicians should not be interfering in sport, but as the EU seems determined to do it, it is essential that sporting organisations are involved at every stage. We need a proper consultation across all sports at all levels, not something hidden away in an obscure corner of the Commission's website," said Conservative MEP Chris Heaton-Harris (EPP-ED). "As it is, the Commission should withdraw this White Paper, re-consult and reconsider its conclusions," he added.

European sports associations have repeatedly emphasised that the organisation of sports needs should stay at organisational level. Therefore, they reject any proposals that would restrict the autonomy of sports or create EU regulations on competences currently resting on sports organisations. 

Associations do not want to see sport becoming an EU competence, but rather call for it to be recognised as a horizontal matter affected by different EU policies, as well as placing sport into mainstream EU policies.

Dr Gernot Wainig, chairman of the European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation's (ENGSO) working group on EU affairs, said he was satisfied with the White Paper, but added that it is only a start, "a book with a lot of questions, without many answers, but some good proposals".

"The big matters, problems, issues (player agents, transfer, health, doping...) are in the book. A big identification with the result should be the next step to go on in a successful way," he said, reiterating, however, that the real competence is still missing and that without a treaty and a specific budget for the future, the sport policy area "will be poor". 

"The Nice Declaration is the only legal interpretation, presented seven years ago, and since that there has been no development," he added.

A joint Fédération Internationale de Football Associations (FIFA)-International Olympic Committee (IOC) declaration states that "while the concept of a White Paper on Sport was to be welcomed, the content of the final version represents - unfortunately - a missed opportunity".

"The White Paper is structured in full contradiction with the actual architecture of the Olympic movement, ignoring in particular the regulatory competencies of the international federations, the division of responsibilities between the latter and their European confederations, the global nature of the issues and challenges currently affecting sport as well as the solutions which are today necessary," it said.  

"The IOC, EOC, FIFA and UEFA had in recent months vainly worked in an attempt to convince politicians that they were heading in a direction that was not favourable to the promotion of sport. The Olympic Movement will, for its part, continue to cooperate with the member states and the Commission with a view to including sport into a new 'Reform Treaty' currently being evaluated by the Portuguese EU Presidency," stated the European Olympic Committee (EOC).

The Centrum für Europäische Politik (CEP), a German think-tank, described as "questionable" the measures proposed on advertising on television rights, gender equality and solidarity between sports clubs.

CEP advised the EU to seriously consider the autonomy of sports and the principle of subsidiarity, and said it should only intervene regarding cross-border problems.

  • 11 July 2007: Commission adopted a White Paper on Sport.
  • 8-9 Oct. 2007: Commission conference to discuss the White Paper with sport stakeholders (see conference report and structured dialogue paper). 
  • 18 Oct. 2007: EU leaders agree on the final text of the 'Reform Treaty'.
  • 13 Dec. 2007: EU leaders signed the new EU Treaty
  • 17 March 2008: EU sports ministers adopted a joint declaration on Social Significance and Dialogue in Sport, outlining the direction for a European Programme for Sports.
  • 8 May 2008: Parliament plenary voted on a motion for resolution on the White Paper on Sport.
  • 26-27 Nov. 2008: First European Sport Forum took place in Biarritz, France. Read the report from the forum.
  • 12 Dec. 2008: European Council adopted a Declaration on Sport.
  • March 2009: Commission adopted its €7.5 million 2009 annual work programme on grants and contracts for the preparatory action in the field of sport and for the special annual events.
  • 15 May 2009: Commission launched a €4 million call for proposals for "preparatory actions in the field of sport".
  • 29-30 Oct. 2009: Final conference of the EU:Sport:Future project to present recommendations for the future EU policy. 
  • 1 Dec. 2009: The Lisbon Treaty enters into force, giving the EU a competence on sport.
  • 15 Jan. 2010: Deadline for EU 2020 public consultation on EU's long term strategy.
  • First half of 2010: Commission to consult member states and stakeholders regarding the implementation of Lisbon Treaty's sport provisions.
  • 25-26 Feb. 2010: Informal meeting of EU Sport Directors.
  • 19-20 April 2010: The second European Sport Forum took place (see forum report).
  • 10 May 2010: First official EU Sports Council.
  • 22 May 2010: Commission launches call for proposals under the 2010 Preparatory Action in the field of sport (EURACTIV 26/05/10). 
  • Nov. 2010: Original date of publication of Commission communication on impact of Lisbon Treaty on sport. 
  • Nov. 2010: Commission draft decision on the EU's sports programme and budget. 
  • 2010, 2011: Preparatory actions for sport.
  • 18 Jan. 2011: Publication of Commission communication on impact of Lisbon Treaty on sport. 
  • 2012: First limited EU sports programme (2012-2013) expected to come into force. 
  • 2014-2020: First full EU sports programme.


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