The European Evening of Sports brought together over 250 participants, including key figures from the world of sport, the EU and national politics on 19 June 2017. This fifth edition of the evening was a true celebration of sport in Europe with the participation of the IOC President Thomas Bach, IOC Honorary President Jacques Rogge, IOC Executive Board Member Sergey Bubka, various IOC Members and EOC Executive Committee members from the side of sport on the one hand, and with the European Commissioner for Sport Tibor Navracsics, Members of the European Parliament and Ministers from the side of public authorities on the other. The event was organised by the EU representation office of the European Olympic Committees (EOC EU Office) and co-hosted by the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg with the aim to discuss the role of the EU in terms of sport policy.
Opening the event with Guido Wolf, Minister of Justice and European Affairs of the State of Baden-Württemberg, EOC acting President Janez Kocijančič stressed the need for a positive approach towards sport: “sport in its entirety is positive and the focus should be on these positive elements. Sport is an element of the future.” Furthermore, he added that it is important in terms of EU sport policy “to find the right balance” between the 28 EU Member States and the other 22 countries that are part of the EOC.
The keynote speech was delivered by the IOC President Thomas Bach. When referring to challenges for the Olympic Movement, he highlighted that “reforming the candidature process is just one part of the Olympic Agenda 2020 recommendation. Another important part is strengthening the autonomy of sport and good governance at the same time. We need the autonomy of sport because it ensures the political neutrality of sport and the worldwide equal application of the rules and laws of sport. Without autonomy, there would be no international sport. With autonomy comes responsibility for the sports movement. We know that you can only enjoy autonomy when adhering to the principles of good governance. Just like we expect politics to respect the autonomy of sport to determine the rules governing sport, our stakeholders from politics and society rightly expect that the world of sport is also run according to the standards of good governance. Autonomy of sport and good governance are therefore two sides of the same coin.”
In terms of EU sport policy, he expressed the hope that the EU does not lose sight of the societal role of sport, especially when applying EU competition law to sport organisations. “Our concern stems from the fact that a purely market-based approach to sport organisations would ignore the social contribution of sport to help achieve objectives of common interest. Without a proportional application of the anti-trust rules, a sport organisation would be treated like a regular for-profit business. Some appear to ignore the fact that it is the sport organisations, through the grassroots, the clubs and associations that are investing in youth. We have millions of volunteers who are contributing their time and skills to bring the benefits of sport to society. Such sport organisations cannot be compared to commercial sports businesses at the top of the pyramid, who want to cherry-pick and profit from this system for commercial interests without contributing to the spread of sport and its values.”
He directly called upon the EU Commission “to safeguard the volunteer engagement and to protect the European Model of Sport, rather than destroying it by applying the same rules as it does for industries, like car manufacturing or steel production. Otherwise investments of sport organisations, such as in the education of young athletes, referees or in women and sport, are at stake.”
With the Erasmus+ Sport Programme halfway into its implementation and with the recently adopted third EU Work Plan for Sport, the European Evening was an excellent occasion to further the discussion on which role the EU could play in the field of sport. What do sport organisations expect from the EU? What has been achieved so far? And where can sport organisations and public authorities work more closely together? These and many more questions were tackled by a high-level panel during a lively and insightful debate moderated by Katrina Sichel.
Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Sport, highlighted the achievements of the first three years of his five-year mandate, including the launch of the European Week of Sport. He agreed that a more holistic approach to sport could contribute when touching upon remaining challenges in other policy areas. Another challenge was highlighted by Jean-Michel Saive, Chair of the EOC Athletes’ Commission, who referred to the difficulties for having the athletes’ voice heard, both in terms of inclusion within decision-making processes as well as in terms of representation to find the balance between voluntary commitments and pursuing sporting results. Indrek Saar, Minister of Culture of Estonia, presented the priorities of the upcoming EU Presidency. In particular, he stressed the role of coaches for society at large.
Janez Kocijančič took up some elements that were raised by Thomas Bach including the need for sport organisations to implement good governance principles. Hannu Takkula, Member of the European Parliament, welcomed the focus on good governance, integrity and accessibility during the discussions stressing that these three topics were at the centre of the recently adopted Report by the European Parliament. Susanna Rahkamo, Vice-President of the NOC of Finland and Chair of the EOC Culture and Legacy Commission, provided the perspective of a national sport organisation. She focused on the benefits of Erasmus+ Sport for sports organisations, both at grassroots and professional level.
The discussions continued over the evening demonstrating the need as well as the advantages of a direct exchange between the world of sport and the EU. Indeed, there is a lot to gain from a more regular cooperation.