Sports, a promising tool in reinforcing European identity

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty turns a new page in institutional reform and starts a fresh chapter in European integration, write Nadège Chambon, a researcher at French think-tank Notre Europe, and Thibaut Kerhervé, president of Triathlon Versailles, in an April paper.

The following contribution was prepared by Nadège Chambon and Thibaut Kerhervé.

"Among the innovations, the initiation of a common sports policy gives the European Union a promising tool to reinforce the feeling of belonging within the EU. Shaped by the battling of nations during the first half of the 20th century, the troubled political history of our continent had an impact on sport, as during the infamous 1936 Olympic Games.

Sixty years after the Schuman Declaration, which assigns the pursuit of peace to the heart of the European project, sport could once again cross paths with the political history of the continent. But this time it would be with the ideal of gathering and unifying the European people.

Sports clubs and associations have great potential to play a role in the emergence of a European identity from the bottom-up, which means from the people themselves. Everywhere in [France], many exchanges are already taking place, as is the case for well-structured sport disciplines or during competitions. It would be for the EU to complement these devices and the action already taken by the national federations.

So that the new common policy mutually benefits both sport and the construction of Europe, it could be inspired by Jacques Delors' three axes for the development of common policies: 'Competition that stimulates, cooperation that strengthens and solidarity that unites'.

Indeed, competition between clubs activates both the structure and economy of sports. Free movement of people, which is a cardinal law of the common market, encourages sports in allowing their elite (athletes, coaches, executives) to improve beyond their national borders.

Complementing the trade-related market, the cooperation principle between national organisations (public policies, sports federations) would fortify European sports in bringing them together or binding them around common goals. For instance, it would facilitate the synchronisation of the annual schedules of competitions: the lack of this causes problems in all disciplines.

Cooperating could also aim at balancing the current monopoly-like system of some national championships, as it is the case with triathlon. Having most of the current world-class triathletes competing in the French Elite Triathlon triggers questions and debate.

It definitely raises knowledge and know-how to stimulate training, racing strategies and global management skills within the high-level organisation of sports in France. However, it greatly raises the bar for budding French talents and prevents other national federations from benefiting from a collective dynamic created around champions.

Completing common policies with the principle of solidarity would allow the EU to develop and maintain a healthy network of clubs of different sizes across each country. It would secure the existence of Centres of Excellence and at the same time guarantee talent identification.

At the core of national, regional and local identities, sports could by virtue of the competition, cooperation and solidarity principles reinforce European sports and contribute to the emergence of a shared feeling of belonging and thus help a long-term European citizenship to emerge."

Subscribe to our newsletters