As the European Commission prepares to table the first EU sports programme by the end of the year, stakeholders are calling for better recognition of the role of volunteering and want the EU to use the new competencies bestowed on it by the Lisbon Treaty to remove administrative obstacles.
During a consultation launched last spring, a number of civil society organisations have voiced their concern at the legislative framework that discourages the engagement of volunteers in sport.
The report on the results of the public consultation on the EU's sports competence, published yesterday (28 July), singles out the need for EU action to support the social, educational and health functions of sport activities, already outlined in the study on volunteering in the EU, published in February 2010.
The study maps the EU-27's national regulatory framework regarding sports volunteering and specific legislation on promoting volunteering and engaging volunteers, such as specific tax regimes, exemptions or reduced VAT rates for sports organisations, for example.
The organisation, administration and implementation of most sporting activities in the EU is traditionally based on voluntary engagement.
However, the Commission notes that societal and legal changes have made the recruitment of volunteers, particularly young ones, more difficult.
According to the EU executive, people's readiness to voluntarily engage with such organisations has fallen, which together with the further commercialisation and professionalisation of sport "has an impact on European sport structures, especially at the grassroots level".
By nominating 2011 as the 'European Year of Voluntary Activities', the EU hopes to increase the recognition and popularity of volunteering across Europe, and encourage the exchange of best practice between member states (EURACTIV 27/11/09).
The online consultation got more than 1,300 valid submissions, some 30% of which were filled out by a representative of different organisations.
Main challenges identified
According to the consultation results, the availability of sport and physical activity at all levels of education was identified as one of the key challenges for sport in Europe in the coming years.
The Commission pointed out that doping is a major threat to fairness in sports competitions, and commercial pressure is seen to endanger the original spirit of sport based on fair play.
Many stakeholders also identified the lack of stable funding for grassroots sport and the predomination of commercial aspects of sport over its societal value as issues to be addressed at EU level, the Commission notes.
NGO demands go beyond EU competence
While providing valuable input on many aspects of different sport-specific topics and governance issues, the Commission notes that many of the recommendations included in these position papers reflected issues which are not part of the EU's mandate as defined in Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty.
Such recommendations related, for example, to direct EU financing of local sports clubs can only be dealt with at national or regional level.
Expert report calls for focus on health
A report by sports experts, published earlier this month, also identified a limited number of priority areas for the first EU sport programme.
The group, convened earlier this year by EU Sport Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou to provide high-level input into the EU executive's preparatory work, suggest that the upcoming programme should focus in particular on supporting exchange of best practices on health-enhancing physical activity.