Sports policy in the EU – introduction

The EU has no direct competence in sport, but a European sports policy is slowly emerging.

Article 2 of the Council of Europe's European Sports Charter defines sport as "all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels".

Within the EU, sport is subject to the subsidiarity principle, which means that it is essentially a matter for Member States. Indeed, Commissioner Reding has stressed that harmonisation of European sport was never and will not in the future be the Commission's aim.

Sport has a whole host of positive associations such as individual health, team spirit and fair play. These all relate to participation but passively enjoying sport also brings people together. During world championships people from one or other country meet up to support their team either at the event or via television, radio or the internet.

Sport is not an EU competence per se but there are various areas which indirectly come under EU policy, such as health, audiovisual policy, education, training and youth. A study, entitled 'The Impact of Community Activities on Sport' (1993 - updated in 1995), showed that most Commission Directorates-General carry out actions or programmes which have an impact on sport. A European sports forum, which includes national ministries dealing with sport, meets every year - the most recent one being in Verona, Italy, from 21-23 November 2003.

Although the European Court of Justice's Bosman ruling generated the most media interest, it was in fact the 1974 Walrave ruling which established sport as being subject to Community law where it constitutes economic activity. The provisions on free movement of workers in Article 2 of the EC Treaty are particularly important in this respect.

History of EU sports initiatives
The Adonino report on European citizenship, 'A People's Europe' (1988), refers to sport in its conclusions and was the basis for publicity campaigns to raise awareness of the EU via sport. The Milan European Council adopted its recommendations in 1985. In terms of funding, the first time that structured action was organised at EU level was between 1995 and 1998 when the EU provided resources for Community-level sports events (eg EURATHLON) and support for the disabled.

The first time that sport was referred to in a declaration accompanying the Treaty came in 1992 when the Maastricht Treaty noted "the social significance of sport" and the importance of amateur sport.

1997 saw an amendment to the TV Without Frontiers Directive whereby Member States were allowed to draw up a list of free-to-air events and the Amsterdam Treaty's declaration on sport which stresses "the social significance of sport", calls on the EU to listen to sports associations regarding important questions relating to sport and says "special consideration should be given to the particular characteristics of amateur sport". 

In the Presidency conclusions of the 1998 Vienna Council, Member States made a commitment to fight doping and invited the Commission to produce the Helsinki report on sport with a view to safeguarding current sport structures and maintaining the social function of sport within the Community framework. 

At Nice in 2000, the Council Declaration came out in support of preserving and promoting the social functions of sport and noted the specific characteristics of sport. The Council also agreed to intensify European cooperation in the area of doping. It also noted the UN Millenium Declaration on the promotion of peace and mutual comprehension by means of sport and the Olympic Truce.

And in February 2003, the Council and Parliament approved the establishment of the European Year of Education through Sport.

Article III-182   of the draft Constitutional Treaty (under Chapter V - areas where the Union may take co-ordinating, complementary or supporting action) which was submitted to the Thessaloniki Council in June 2003, refers to the educational and social role of sport. Sport is listed in Article 16 as one of the areas where the EU may take supporting, co-ordinating or complementary action.


The sports unit of DG Education and Culture was created in 1999 following the Helsinki report. The unit is, inter alia, responsible for administering the European Year of Education through Sport 2004. A key aspect of their work is the co-ordination of EU sports-related projects under this programme. In a September 1998 working paper the Commission identified sport as performing five functions: an educational, a public health, a social, a cultural and a recreational function. It also recognises that sport is not only an economic activity but also part of European identity.


There are no permanent groups dealing with sport. Generally speaking, ad hoc groups are set up to deal with proposals by the Commission. Issues where sport cuts across another EU competence are handled in the appropriate committee. For example, the Council co-operates closely with the Commission under title VI (relating to Justice and Home Affairs) of the Treaty on European Union. In particular they exchange information and experience on the prevention of hooliganism.


Sports issues are dealt with in different committees depending on the precise nature of the issue. The Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport is one main forum for debate on these types of issue. There is also a Parliament Sports Intergroup which meets informally and does not have strict membership rules. It has also been suggested that a new group, which would deal with professional football in the EU, may be set up. The main Parliament activities relating to sports are resolutions on the role of the EU in sport (1997), on a Community support plan to combat doping in sport (2000), on the social function of sport (2000) and a legislative resolution on EYES 2004 (2002).


Broadly speaking there appear to be relatively few governments with ministries dedicated to sport alone (eg France) while a number include sport in a wider portfolio (eg Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and the UK).

Sports federations include:

International Olympic Committee (IOC), Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), Association of European National Olympic Committees and the European Non-governmental Sports Organisation (ENGSO).

As regards sport and competition issues, the following have been examined by the Commission in recent years:

  • Media rights for the UEFA Champions League
  • Multiple ownership of football clubs
  • Football players' agents
  • UEFA broadcasting rights
  • Formula One - International Automobile Federation regulations
  • Rules on the transfer of football players
  • Grants to French professional football clubs
  • The Mouscron case re: the UEFA home and away rule
  • Doping case filed against the IOC by two swimmers who were banned for doping - Commission ruled that this fell outside the scope of Community competition rules

Here are some of the main issues relating to sport:

How will the EU deal with the issue of broadcasting and third generation mobile rights and ensure that monopoly situations do not arise?

Will the list of events on free-to-air television be maintained as per the TV without Frontiers Directive?

Will Football Information Points and the Football Information Handbook act as effective deterrents against hooliganism?

Will the European Year of Education through Sport be regarded as a success and 'good value for money' by bringing more sport into school curricula, encouraging the development of grassroots sport, getting young people used to being active participants in sports events rather than passive consumers and promoting the positive values of sport (eg fair play, teamwork, solidarity)?

How will the EU develop policies with regard to the free movement of persons, free movement of goods, mutual recognition of qualifications and freedom of establishment?

How can the EU help prevent a recurrence of the ticket sales fiascos such as the one during the football World Cup in France?



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