On 22 and 23 March 2018, the European Commission organised its annual EU Sport Forum, this year in cooperation with the Bulgarian presidency in Sofia. The event brought together a record number of participants – 380 - from organised sport, the European institutions and Member States in order to discuss current and future topics of EU sport policy.
After opening speeches by Sofia’s mayor Yordanka Fandakova, European Commissioner for Sport Tibor Navracsics, and Bulgaria’s Minister for Youth and Sport, Krasen Kralev, the first day kicked-off with presentations on sustainability in the context of the Olympic Games 2022 and 2024. Eric Lebèdel, French Ambassador in Bulgaria, as well as Jean-Michel Brun, EOC Executive Committee Member and Secretary General of the French National Olympic Committee, and Marie Barsacq, Impact & Legacy Director Paris 2024 presented the efforts and plans for the Olympic Games in 2024. Chu Bo, Director General of the General Administration of Sport of China presented developments for Beijing 2022.
The second session was dedicated to one of the new priorities of the European Commission in the field of sport – international cooperation. While reiterating that sport policy at EU level can serve as a good platform for cooperation and communication with the rest of the world, the panellists addressed the question of boycotts of major sport events and their impact on athletes, which, as MEP Bogdan Wenta put it, “would, in the end, pay the bill.” A better and more intensive dialogue with athletes was, according to the Olympic Gold Medallist in field hockey, Georgie Twigg, the right way forward both in terms of preventing boycotts and promoting sport in international cooperation in general. Panellists agreed that Major Sport Events were very important for diplomacy and that their image needed to be improved – including the more frequent use of “co-hosting” - so that they would find back their appeal among the European public. Speaking of concrete measures in this policy areas, Commissioner Navracsics recalled that the European Week of Sport has been opened to the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership regions, and that with 5 countries have already confirmed their participation.
In the afternoon three parallel workshops were organised discussing the topics of “Does sport help the development of cities and regions?”, “Transfers of players: different aspects and perspectives”, and “Women in sport: breaking the glass ceiling”. Gerd Kanter, Chair of the EOC Athletes’ Commission took part in the last discussion which was opened, by Stefan Bergh, ENGSO General Secretary.
The first day was concluded by a discussion on how to follow up the Tartu Call for Action which Commissioner Navracsics and his fellow Commissioners for Health & Food Safety and for Agriculture & Rural Development, Vytenis Andriukaitis and Phil Hogan, had signed last September to promote healthy lifestyles.
The second day started with a discussion of the International Skating Union case and its impact on the sport movement. Niels Nygaard, Vice-President of the European Olympic Committees, shared the floor with Claudia Bokel, former member of the IOC Ahtletes’ Commission, Julien Zylberstein of UEFA, Philippe Boone of the Volleyball Leagues Association and Richard Parrish, Professor of Sports Law at Edge Hill University. Case Handler Tobias Maass of the European Commission presented the outcomes of the case, explaining that ISU was to change its rules, but exceptionally no fines had been applied at the current stage. He reiterated that the case was not meant to question the role of sport federations in general and that the Commission did not intend to be the referee in all sporting disputes. Niels Nygaard said that the case felt like a step towards more clarity on economic activity and specificity of sport on the EU side, but called for more dialogue between the different actors. He stressed the importance of good governance, but also reminded that it was necessary to have all event organisers, private or not, contribute to solidarity mechanisms and respect sporting rules, including anti-doping and the sporting calendar.
Following this, the participants broke up into workshops again, discussing “Promotion of European Values through Sport” (with Yordana Balfoeva, Vice-President Bulgarian NOC), “Opportunities brought by innovation and digital technologies in Sport” and “Sport and Climate Change: How can Sport contribute to the Paris Agreement?”.
A final panel saw Folker Hellmund, Director of the EOC EU Office, discuss the topic of better cooperation between the EU and the sport movement together with Svein Arne Hansen, President of European Athletics, Kairis Ulp and Viktoria Slavkova, chairs of the EU Working Party for Sport under the Estonian and Bulgarian Presidency respectively and Barbara Spindler-Oswald, who will take this role in the second half of 2018, when Austria takes on the Council presidency. Folker Hellmund stressed the importance to involve the Olympic Sports movement at an early stage of planning. In this connection he mentioned the meetings of the Sport Directors that could be a good frame for informal discussions.