On 8 and 9 April 2019, the European Commission and the Romanian Presidency of the Council organised the annual EU Sport Forum in Bucharest. A record number of 410 participants included a large number of representatives of sport federations and umbrella organisations. EOC President Janez Kocijancic and Vice-President Niels Nygaard were both present in panels.
After opening remarks by Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva (Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport of the Commission), Santiago Fisas Ayxelà (MEP) and Mihai Covaliu (President Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee), several crucial topics for the Olympic and sport movement were discussed during the two days of the event.
The role of sport federations in the promotion of European sport
One of this year’s main panels discussed the role of sport federations in the promotion of European sport. After the introductory remarks of Francesco Ricci Bitti, President of ASOIF, the panel recognised the crucial role and competence of international federations to govern their sport. Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics said: “International federations are essential components of the sport system and we need them for the cooperation as we can rely on their work as sport governing bodies.” EOC President Janez Kocijanćić reminded that Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty recognises the specificity and autonomy of sport: “This is very important as it recognises the role of sport federations to govern their own sport. The EU Commission needs to guarantee the legal certainty for this governance.”
Marijke Fleuren, European Hockey Federation (EHF) President, agreed and added: “We as sport governing bodies need to be proactive to develop our sport and redistribute the revenues to grassroots sport. That is our role.”Doping in sport, rights of athletes and role of schools in promoting physical activity
Following this debate, Sébastien Gillot, (Director European Office & International Federation Relations, WADA) and Witold Bańka (Minister of Sport and Tourism of Poland and European candidate for the WADA presidency) discussed developments and challenges for the fight against doping. Both insisted on the need to further increase funding. Gillot also referred to the importance of capacity building for the creation of a level playing field. Bańka proposed a solidarity fund to tackle the inconsistent structure of anti-doping systems.
“Are the rights and interests of athletes sufficiently taken into account by sport governing bodies?” was the core question in the panel on the athletes’ rights, which included IOC Member and Vice-Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Danka Bartekova, and Elisabeth Cebrian Scheurer (Development Projects and Women’s Basketball, FIBA Europe). They both stressed the progress over the past years in involving athletes in the decision making of sport organisations. Ms Bartekova also highlighted the importance of understanding that athletes come from different backgrounds and are active under different circumstances, as most athletes are not professional, but amateurs. The discussion on the rights of athletes is too often only focusing on professional athletes, but the amateurs should not be forgotten, she stressed.
Another workshop referred to the role schools can play to promote healthy lifestyles. Renato Arena, Vice-President of the European Volleyball Confederation (CEV), spoke about the needed cooperation between federations, clubs, and schools to reach all children and presented CEV’s Erasmus+ project on “Mini Volley”.
Can Europe still attract major sport events?
A panel including IOC Members Pál Schmitt and Sergey Bubka (also President of the Ukrainian NOC) discussed the future of major sport events in Europe. Jean-Loup Chappelet (University Lausanne) stressed that even though citizens in some European countries have recently rejected the hosting of certain major events, short and medium term benefits can be identified and should be presented accordingly. Sergey Bubka highlighted that the model needed to be adapted to the circumstances with more flexible and cross-border approaches to reduce costs as an important step following the IOC’s “New Norm” (a set of reforms for the Olympic Games to be delivered in the future). French Minister for Sport, Roxana Maracineanu, added that sport events could also shape the national discussions, saying that sport was currently becoming a real French policy field in the course of the preparations for the Olympic Games 2024.
Why and how should be grassroots sport financed?
The panel on the financing of grassroots sport was opened by the EOC EU Office’s Director Folker Hellmund. He expressed his astonishment over the fact that the question of why to finance grassroots sports still needed to be asked, and presented several elements, including - ECJ judgments, figures on the added value of sport for health, employability or the major role played by sport clubs to include disadvantaged social group – to illustrate that the need for sufficient and appropriate funding for grassroots sports was a no brainer. He explained how grassroots sport is financed and presented areas such as tax policy and infrastructure investment, where public support is needed. He also referred to the need to better use EU structural funds for sport. He further highlighted that European NOCs are active in this regard, both in financing grassroots sport and in influencing public authorities to provide their financial support. Hansjörg Höltkemeier, President of the European Lotteries and Toto Association, regretted that the financing by lotteries is not well known and underlined that, contrary to betting sponsoring, lotteries do not request a counterpart for their contribution.
Are sport rights protected in the EU?
Unsurprisingly, the discussion focused on the Digital Single Market. Mark Lichtenhein (Sports Rights Owners Coalition) explained that the revenue from broadcasting rights is reinvested in (grassroots) sport. He referred, in particular, to the recently adopted Copyright Directive, and voiced disappointment over the fact that the sport neighbouring right had not been taken up in the final version. Krisztina Stump (Deputy Head Copyright Unit) explained why the Commission did not support the inclusion of this right in the Directive arguing that there was need for more evidence, but also acknowledging the problem with piracy. The Commission issued a declaration to work on piracy in sports in the future.
Justice in Sport and challenges of less popular sports
The following two parallel sessions discussed justice in sport, and challenges faced by less popular sports. The panel on justice in sport included Vice-President of European Athletics Jean Gracia as panellist, who explained the changes that IAAF has done in the past few years regarding their disciplinary procedures. Otherwise, the discussion focused on the role and functioning of CAS.
In the session on the less popular sport, President of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, Krisztián Kulcsár, asked for a definition of what “less popular sports” really are as “which sports are popular or not cannot be always defined on global level; it is often a very national/regional phenomenon”.
Future engagement in sport?
In this last session of the Sport Forum, the panellists discussed people’s engagement with sport in the future. Adrian Beiu (SAP) presented interactions of technology with sport referring both to connected devices used in mass sports and to data use in professional sports. He identified technological doping as a potential threat and the classification of esports as a big question. Christian Sachs (German Olympic Sports Confederation) presented the approach of German organised sport towards e-games: federations agreed to differentiate between virtual sports that replicate existing sports and e-games that do not reflect sporting requirements. EOC Vice-President Niels Nygaard asked how to get more people active recalling the huge problems that physical inactivity creates for society. He urged sport organisations to be more flexible and develop a more varied offer.
As showcased above, the EU Sport Forum 2019 raised a number of questions, which are fundamental for the Olympic and sport movement. The EOC EU Office would like to thank the Sport Unit of the Commission for putting these topics on the agenda.