On 6 March 2019, the Sports Intergroup together with the URBAN Intergroup, organised a Conference on the topic of “Sport & Regional Development - The Future of Sport in European Cities.” The topic was introduced by Jan Olbrycht, President of the Urban Intergroup, who stressed that sport on European level is parly reduced to a ‘’business that is involving private money’’. He stated that a focus should be more on the societal benefits of sport. Sport should be considered as an investment opportunity that can trigger activities on local and regional level. The Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics underlined Mr. Olbrychts words by saying that sport needs to be seen as a ‘’community building exercise’’, which happens at local level. He further explained that boundaries of policy areas need to be broken down to ensure an appropriate holistic approach that meets the needs of citizens and exploits the potential of sport that otherwise would remain untapped.
The first panel, which discussed the role of sport and physical activity as drivers for vibrant regions and cohesive communities, was led by the EOC EU-Office Director Folker Hellmund backed Mr Olbrycht and Commissioner Navracsics position. Furthermore, he stressed that sport should be be better positioned in the ongoing negotiations for the upcoming European Multiannual Financial Framework. UEFA Vice-President Karl Nilsson, demanded a stronger focus on infrastructure investments for the grassroots level and underlined that investments in professional sport should be financed differently. The other panellists, namely the Co-chair of the Sports Intergroup, MEP Santiago Fisas, the Vice- President of the Committee of the Regions Markku Markkula and Benjamin Barets, Member of Cabinet of the Commissioner Cretu (Regional Policy), provided further arguments and examples why sports need to be fostered in cities and regions. Mr. Fisas for instance described how the Olympic Games of Barcelona where used strategically to develop the city and region of Barcelona and Mr. Markkula outlined that an investment in sport on the regional level generates returns of social inclusion, tourism and health. Mr. Barets further outlined the common perspective of the panel, reiterating that ‘’sport is an activity of general interest’’.
The second Panel was guided by MEP Jordi Sole and dealt with benefits of sport & physical activity at local level – good practices. Ms. Hakvoort and Ms. Verschoore, who represented the cities of Amsterdam and Ghent, provided interesting examples on their approaches to tackle the problem of inactivity among its citizens and showed how variable and distinct solutions can look like. The representative of Sport and Citizenship, Maxim Leblanc, thereby constituted that the problem of inactivity is further increased by the fact that most of the local decision makers are not aware and can thus do not act. Randall Rzewnicki, from the European Cycling Federation, outlined the advantages and benefits cycling has, especially for cities and citizens.
The conference was concluded by Lucian Mircescu, the Chairman of the Working Party on Sport, who stressed the importance of institutional cooperations to fully exploit the benefits of sport for regional development.
The SportHub: Alliance for Regional development in Europe (SHARE initiative) that had supported the event in the EP subsequently met on the 11 March in order to discuss their next activities. A contribution to the EU Sustainable Energy Week and Week of Cities and Regions was envisioned.