On 9-10 March 2016, the European Commission, together with the Dutch Council Presidency, organised the annual EU Sport Forum in The Hague, Netherlands. In the course of the two days, the participants discussed current topics, including good governance in sport, sport’s role in the integration of migrants, and the Digital Single Market (DSM) initiative, but also future activities like the 2016 European Week of Sport (EWoS) and the future EU Work Plan on Sport.
After the Mayor of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, welcomed participants in his city, the Deputy Director-General of DG EAC of the European Commission, opened the Forum. He insisted that sport could help the EU solve problems for people, but also pointed to a need for improved governance in sport to create a stronger sport community in Europe. Dutch Minister for Health, Welfare and Sport, Edith Schippers subsequently pointed to the Dutch focus on integrity of sport in its current Council Presidency agenda. EOC President Patrick Hickey, opening the Forum on behalf of the organised sport in Europe, expressed his expectations on a fruitful dialogue with governements and the European Commission aiming at a better understanding of sport issues. He also agreed regarding the challenges of good governance that sport is facing and prpmoted in this context the EOC EU Office’s SIGGS project.
During a first parallel workshop, panellists including Folker Hellmund, Director of the EOC EU Office, discussed the integration of migrants and refugees and in particular what answers European grassroots sport can provide. Folker Hellmund stressed in particular the challenges that local clubs are facing in terms of financing, skills and facilities when contributing to integration. In this regard, he added that support, expertise and better networks with specialised stakeholders are needed to have a common contribution. In terms of financial support, he referred to the European Social Funds as well as the Erasmus+ Sport Programme, although he remarked that considerable challenges remain for sport clubs to receive support from either of these two Funds.
In a parallel workshop, a panel including IOC Head of Legal & Business Affairs, Kevin Groome and Holger Blask of Bundesliga, discussed the new EU initiatives concerning the Digital Single Market and its effects on sport right owners. The panel generally agreed that the current model was providing the European citizens with content tailored to their interests and that an erosion of the principle of territoriality would essentially destroy a functioning market. Regarding possible solutions for temporary access of purchased rights from other EU Member States (portability), Kevin Groome stressed that while the technical verifications would be important, the definition of “temporary access” is crucial. For an event like the Olympics, a one month period of access per year would have other effects than for a league season.
Furthermore, an interesting panel debate was organised on the subject of good governance in sports. Among the panellists were EOC President Patrick Hickey, President of the Dutch FA Michael Van Praag, European Commissioner Tibor Navracsics and Director of Play the Game Jens Sejer Andersen. During an open discussion, the current state of play in terms of the implementation of good governance principles by sport organisations as well as the way forward was discussed. Patrick Hickey stressed the commitment of the Olympic Movement to implement good governance, for instance through the 20+20 recommendations of the Olympic Agenda 2020 of the IOC and initiatives such as the SIGGS project of the EOC EU Office.
Another topic on the Forum’s Agenda was the European Week of Sport (EWoS). After a general introduction and presentation of the results of the last year’s and of the plans for this year’s edition, three separate sessions took place.
National Coordinating Bodies met to discuss the activities they have in the pipeline to promote the EWoS at national level in the 31 countries where the initiative will take place.
In the meeting with the EWoS partner organisations, the European Commission announced that the commitments with existing partners would be renewed in March/April 2016, while other organisations can still contact the Commission’s Sport Unit in this timeframe as well.
The third parallel session was then dedicated to the presentation of activities by leaders of Projects which have been awarded a grant under the Erasmus + Sport EWoS 2015 call (January 2015).
Set up by Commissioner Navracsics with the aim to provide him with recommendations and new ideas, High-Level Groups (HLG) on Sport Diplomacy and on Grassroots sports have been intensively working on the respective deliverables, the framework of which was presented at Forum.
Regarding the HLG on Grassroots Sport, EOC Executive Committee member and President of the Danish Olympic Committee, Niels Nygaard, as co-chair of the Group, was one of the speakers to report on the development of the work. In his intervention, he stressed the key role of sport clubs at grassroots level. “Where there is a high participation in sport clubs, there is a high participation in sport and physical activities in general”, he said. Furthermore, he said that the focus needs to be to get kids and youth involved, to ensure their physically active lifestyle throughout their lives.
In the final session, first thoughts on the new EU Work Plan for Sport were discussed. For the European Commission, Yves Le Lostecque mentioned that discussions were open now and asked for input how to proceed – he especially referred to the aspects of duration of the work plan, working methods and priorities. From the member state perspective, Harri Syväsalmi, Finish Director Sport, pointed to a reduced work load per expert group, a better cooperation between groups and the presence of experts for discussed topics as first developments.