Sport and the EU treaties


So far, the EU's involvement in sport policy has revolved around its economic aspects but with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, Europe now has a legal base to provide a supporting role to member states in the social, educational and cultural aspects of sport.

The treatment of sport at EU level has focused primarily on its economic aspects up until now. The EU Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe agreed by EU heads of state and government and signed in October 2004, however, foresaw the introduction of sport into the treaty to give the EU a legal base to support member states in the social, educational and cultural aspects of sport (see Article 182 on Sport of the Constitutional Treaty). 

This shift in emphasis was underlined at the European Council in Nice back in 2000, which stated that "... the Community must, in its action under the various Treaty provisions, take account of the social, educational and cultural functions inherent in sport and making it special, in order that the code of ethics and the solidarity essential to the preservation of its social role may be respected and nurtured". The declaration was in favour of the specific nature of sport. It refers to:

  • the protection of young sportsmen and sportswomen from commercial pressures
  • the dangers posed [for a level playing field in terms of competition] by the same operator owning or having economic control of several sports clubs
  • the practice of physical and sporting activities by handicapped people and the economic and social role of volunteering activities in sport
  • the need to develop initiatives towards the shared use of some of the receipts coming from the sale of TV broadcasting rights - supporting the principle of solidarity between all the levels of sport and across all the disciplines of sport

Prior to this, the Amsterdam declaration in 1997 underscored the social importance of sport and its role as a source of identity and of uniting human beings. It called on greater co-operation between Community institutions and the sporting movement. The Vienna European Council conclusions in 1998 referred to the need to safeguard current sports structures and maintain the social role of sport in the EU. In 1999, the Commission presented a report to the Helsinki European Council, in which it argued the case for maintaining the European model of sport in its commercial and non-commercial aspects.

After the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty by French and Dutch referendums in late spring 2005, the Treaty was shelved for a "period of reflection" for two years. 

In June 2007, EU leaders mandated an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to reform the Constitutional Treaty by the end of the year 2007. Their mandate reiterated the need to introduce an EU competence for sport.

The EU's new Lisbon Treaty was sigend by EU leaders in December 2007. It amends areas where the Union shall have competence to "carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the member states". The heading "Categories and areas of Union competence' is proposed to include education, vocational training, youth and sport along with, for example, tourism, culture and health. 

It also amends Article 149 of the EU Treaty on 'Education, vocational training and youth' to include several references to sport. "The Union shall 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," reads the text.

The aim of Community action will be to "develop the European dimension in sport, by promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions and cooperation between bodies responsible for sports, and by protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen, especially the youngest sportsmen and sportswomen."

In addition, the EU and the member states are expected to foster co-operation with third countries and international organisations such as the Council of Europe (CoE), in the field of sport.

The European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation (ENGSO), the umbrella body for the national sport confederations and national Olympic organisations in Europe welcomes the inclusion of sport as an area in which the EU can carry out actions to support, coordinate or supplement the actions of the member states. "The Treaty will allow the European Union to implement the work of the recent White Paper for Sport and thereby support the biggest social movement in Europe by developing real funding streams for the benefit of sport and European citizens," said the organisation in a statement.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it was "delighted by this historic move". "The Olympic Movement has fought for a legal basis for sport in the EU for more than 12 years. The reference to the specificity of sport will strengthen the role of sport in Europe. Sport cannot be approached only as an economic activity. The biggest part of sport, taking place at grassroots level, is based on voluntary structures. With the reference to sport in the EU Reform Treaty, it will be easier for sports organisations in Europe to fulfil their educational and social role in society," said the IOC President Jacques Rogge.

"Sport is the biggest social movement in the EU and plays a key role in the fields of integration, education and health. The IOC is convinced that the creation of a legal basis for sport in the EU Reform Treaty would better address the needs of sport and provide a sound legal framework for the future," stated IOC in a press release. 

"Autonomy means preserving the values of sport and the existing structures through which it has developed in Europe and around the world. Sport can play its unique role thanks to its autonomy, and this role would be seriously compromised if sports governing bodies are subject to public interference," said Rogge. 

"The Olympic and sporting movement is delighted by this historic move, which reflects a demand previously expressed on many occasions by the International Olympic Committee, the National Olympic Committees, the European Olympic Committees, the 35 international federations and their European confederations," said a FIFA statement. 

"FIFA has led a long campaign for the specific nature of sport to be recognised. The EU reform treaty shows that the Council of the European Union has heard us. I would like to thank the heads of state and government of the EU member states for their support. This is a major event that is crucial for the management of sport in general and especially football," said FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. 

G-14, the voice of eighteen European football clubs, also welcomed the Reform Treaty. "This decision of EU leaders is a welcome step as it maintains the principle that all actors in the sporting community, be they clubs, players or sporting federations are fully subject to European law. The decision of the EU leaders safeguards legal certainty and corresponds with the long held view of G-14 that all in the sporting community should be equal before the law. This guarantees recognition of the specific nature of sport which remains subject to the clarification of the European Court of Justice on a case-by-case basis," said G-14 General Manager Thomas Kurth. 

Already earlier, the G-14 had together with Euroleague Basketball (ULEB) and Group Club Handball  welcomed the draft article on sport [which was finally adopted] as they believed it ensures "a fair balance between the legitimate interests of the diverse actors in the sports sector." The three organisations supported the draft and were not looking for it to be changed, unlike IOC, FIFA or UEF. 

The German Sports Federation (DSB) has repeatedly called for the consideration of the protection and promotion of the special characteristics of sport, that is the autonomy of sports organisations, the voluntary nature of their structures and the team spirit and solidarity between all levels of the sports movement. It has also called for legal recognition of the educational, social, health-promoting, cultural and integrating role of sport for the community.

  • Oct 2004: The EU Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe signed.
  • Spring 2005: The Treaty was rejected in France and the Netherlands.
  • June 2007: EU leaders mandate an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to reform the Constitutional Treaty by the end of the year 2007. 
  • 18 Oct. 2007: EU leaders agree to keep agreed reference to sport in the final text of the 'Reform Treaty'.
  • 13 Dec. 2007: EU leaders signed the new EU Treaty.
  • 1 Dec. 2009: The Lisbon Treaty enters into force, giving the EU a competence on sport.
  • 10 May 2010: First official EU Sports Council.
  • Nov. 2010: Original publication date of Commission communication on the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on sport.
  • 18 Jan. 2011: Publication of Commission communication on sport. 


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