Combating doping in amateur sport, promoting social inclusion, gender equality and improving the health of Europeans are among the key policy areas to be addressed by the EU's new sports policy. But preparations for the launch were marred by concerns about how much funding would be available for EU sports policies.
The plans are outlined in a communication unveiled by Sports Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou in Strasbourg on 18 January.
The communication, entitled 'Developing the European Dimension in Sport', sets out the EU's first-ever sports programme, a limited version of which the EU executive hopes to launch in 2012 ahead of the first fully-fledged raft of policies in 2014.
"Sport is important for Europe's economy and a key component of its social model," said Commissioner Vassiliou at the communication's launch in Strasbourg.
The Commission is proposing 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.
"The measures we have adopted today highlight sport’s contribution to our society and will help improve the way sport is run," Vassiliou said.
No money available
The build-up to the communication's launch has been marred by concerns as to whether the Commission will have enough funding for the new policy after sweeping budget cuts in EU capitals triggered calls for the European Union's budget to be slashed.
"Article 165 gives us a legal basis but it doesn't give us a budget. Unfortunately the treaty came into force at exactly the wrong time and there's no money available at all," Gregory Paulger, director of DG Education and Culture at the European Commission – the department responsible for drafting the new EU sports policy – told a European Parliament hearing in November.
Today's communication proposes 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 calls 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".
The Commission is currently funding preparatory actions in the field of sport. Among 12 new projects to be launched in 2011 outlined in today's communication are measures to prevent doping in amateur sport, promote volunteering and boost the social inclusion of migrants.
"Projects selected in 2009 and 2010 received funding of around €6.5m. The Commission will continue with these preparatory actions in 2011," the EU executive said.
"It will evaluate them and then determine the best form of future EU action in this area," it added.
Court challenge pending?
Meanwhile, some observers believe that the EU's sports policy could be challenged in court given that the wording of the relevant Lisbon Treaty article is vague.
Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty requires the Commission to develop the European dimension of sport by drawing up a specific EU policy programme, "while taking account of the specific nature of sport, its structures based on voluntary activity and its social and educational function".
But it gives little detail of how this will be done, opening the door to interpretation by the courts.
Laurent Thieule, president of Sport and Citizenship, a leading EU sports think-tank, says the most significant outstanding issue is whether the specific nature of sport as described by the treaty could legally result in "a sporting exception".
The focus now turns to EU member states and members of the European Parliament, who will further develop the Commission's proposals and decide which policies to prioritise.
"When and how will depend upon the political process which has just started," said the EU executive.