INTERVIEW OF THE MONTH - SABINE VERHEYEN (MEP)

Created on Friday, 02 Apr 2021 09:40:25
  • Question 1: In February, the CULT Committee of European Parliament adopted a motion for a resolution on the impact of COVID-19 on youth and on sport.  How do you think the Sport Movement and the European Parliament can work together to mitigate the negative effects, particularly on grassroots sport?

This resolution sends a very important signal of support for young people and the sports sector. The pandemic has had a huge impact on young people, their future, education, employment opportunities and self-esteem. What we found out from working on this resolution is that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted young people and the sports sector. For youth, we discovered that education, volunteering and training opportunities are disappearing.

It has also had a devastating effect not only on professional sport, but also grassroots sport, because small sports clubs contribute a great deal to the development of young talent and run mostly on a voluntary basis.  We are also concerned about the impact on public health in general.

Through the resolution, we formulated recommendations for concrete actions, including the use of EU financial instruments and tailored national recovery plans, to offer short-term support to the sports sector and to our young people.

As we all know, the sports sector accounts for 2.12% of European GDP and provides almost 6 million jobs in Europe. That is why we called on Member States to support sport through national funds, structural funds and recovery and resilience plans, as well as through the EU health programme.

A number of specific EU programmes were referred to including the Erasmus+ programme and the European Solidarity Corps, and to which it was said that there should be full access: the Recovery and Resilience Facility, the European Regional Development Fund, the Cohesion Fund, the European Social Fund Plus and EU4Health.

We have also asked the European Commission to develop concrete measures in the short and long term to help the sector within the framework of the new EU Work Plan for Sport 2021-2024. The Commission should examine the possibility of delivering additional targeted support for the sector.

What is more, a coordinated dialogue between the Member States, the European Commission and European and international sports federations to discuss how sports facilities can be reopened and sports events can continue in safety is also crucial. A coordinated approach at the European level with regard to stadium attendance, travel restrictions and Covid-19 testing is essential to enable effective planning and organisation of sporting events.

Recognising the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on young people and the sports sector, it is considered particularly important for the European Parliament, Commission and Member States to work together to strengthen the recovery and crisis resilience of the sports sector.

  • Question 2: In the resolution, you raised some very important issues for sport including strengthening the European Sport Model, providing greater access to EU funding for sport as well as the need for a coordinated approach to the planning and organisation of European sport competitions. How do you see the role of the European Parliament in these different policy areas?

Indeed, these are one of the most important recommendations in this resolution and I think that the European Parliament has an important role to play. Together with my colleagues in the Culture, Education, Youth and Sport Committee, I am committed to developing European policies that help sport in Europe grow stronger, more inclusive and accessible to all. These concrete solutions and support proposed in the resolution are essential not only for the health and well-being of our citizens, but also for economic recovery, both now and in the future.

This makes it all the more important for us now to preserve and promote the European Model of Sport, because solidarity, fairness and a value-based approach are more important than ever for the revitalisation of the sports sector and the survival of sport at grassroots level.

The CULT Committee and the Parliament should be a part of the dialogue between the institutions, and with the Council Europe. Only a common position and approach, as well as a strong pressure on Member States can give some solutions and tangible results.

  • Question 3: It can be said that sport topics do not frequently appear on the CULT Committee agenda and it seems there has been, thus far, no support for the renewal of an official Sport intergroup. The European Parliament has, on the other hand, successfully supported the inclusion of sport in structural funds and other EU programmes. How do you assess the support of sport at the European Parliament and what could be objectives for the future?

The CULT Committee covers many issues, like education, culture, youth, multilingualism, media and sport. It could seem that we have less focus on sport and we need to reflect the priorities of all the political groups. On the other hand, I would not agree with this statement, as we have just adopted a new Erasmus+ Programme and we have raised a share for a sport to 1.9 per cent, showing that funding for grassroots sport is extremely important for the EP and CULT Committee. We are still in the negotiations on the report on Challenges of the Sports events organisers in digital era, for which the CULT Committee prepared an opinion, dealing with the problem of piracy of the sports events. The report should be adopted in a plenary session in May.

As you have already mentioned before, we adopted by a large majority a resolution on youth and sport, showing the importance of sport sector and the fact that it was one of the most impacted sectors. What is more, it has been the EPP Group, which requested an INI report on the future of the sports policy. In the near future, we will have a presentation of the study on the impact of Covid-19 on the sport sector and probably a hearing related to this topic.

Moreover, several MEPS in the CULT Committee are also members of the Sports Group in the EP which is very active and deals with other topics of the sport sector such as fight against match-fixing and doping, sustainability of sport and recently initiated several successful Pilot Projects and Preparatory Actions in the fields of sport, namely: social inclusion of refugees through sport, grassroots sport and innovation, mobility of the sport staff.  My Committee is very active in this regard, even though this is not always visible at first sight as it is not big in the media.

  • Question 4: The European Parliament will begin working on a new report on Sport policies. What would be the main objective of this document and could you already tell us about some elements that will or should be included?

So, as I have already reiterated before, the request to issue this report was made by the EPP Group, as sport policy clearly is a priority for our Group. I am satisfied that we had a support of all other political groups.  The report will be an analysis of the European sport policy and possible ways forwards. As you know, we had in the past two reports in CULT Committee in 2011 from Mr Santiago Fisas about the European Dimension of sport and in 2016 from Mr TAKKULA on the governance in sport.

Given the fact that sport sector is one of the most impacted by the crisis, and the EU Work Plan for Sport for 2021-2024 was adopted at the end of the last year, it is important that the EP also gives its recommendations in this area.

I very much hope that my colleague Tomasz Frankowski will be rapporteur for this report, as he is a true expert in sports policy, and his office is very well known for being very well educated and experienced in sports related policy matters.

  • Question 5:  Sport is a horizontal topic and relates to a number of policy fields such as social inclusion, health, environment and gender equality. Do you see a role for the CULT Committee to take up these specific policy fields, and work together on them with other Committees?

Indeed, sport is essential to social cohesion, public health and economic growth. Sports sector accounts for 2,12% of the EU global GDP, while the total employment generated by sports activities is 6 million. Despite these impressive figures, the economic impact of the sport-related industries is often underestimated.

In times when European society needs exactly that, it makes sense to put sport high on the EU agenda. I think that the European Parliament, as an institution that represents European citizens is an ideal place to create a platform for communication and cooperation with different interest groups, NGOs, federations and associations in the field of sport.  I believe that the CULT Committee works very well with other parliamentary committees on the horizontal issues such as health, environment and gender equality. Of course, much more can still be done.

However, together with the Sports Group, which brings together MEPs who are involved in the work on different sport-related issues through their parliamentary activities serves this purpose very well. We always need to keep in mind that the Lisbon Treaty grants the EU only a “supporting competence” in the field of sport which means that the role of the EU is to support, advise and coordinate the activity of Member States in that field. 

 

Picture: FKPH

 

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