EU sports ministers back idea of Commission White Paper
By Julian Hale | Wednesday 29 November 2006
Following the premier event of the Finnish EU Presidency when it comes to sport, called The EU and Sport: Matching Expectations (27-28 November), EU sports ministers have backed the European Commission’s move to produce a White Paper on sport “as a response to the sport ministers’ wish to give sport a higher profile in European and national policy-making”. A working group will now be set up during the German EU Presidency to help the Commission draw up the paper.
Education and Sports Commissioner Jan Figel’ announced that there would be an online consultation in early 2007. Earlier in the week, his fellow commissioners had backed a policy initiative in the area. At a press conference, Figel’ said that legislation would not automatically follow but underlined that “the aim was not a general exemption for sport from EU law” and that “it was important to secure more legal clarity within the EU Treaties”.
“There is growing momentum towards a joint approach between member states, the Commission and sports stakeholders,” he added. “Rules are set by sports associations/federations but they must comply with EU and national law.”
The running of international sport is a highly contentious issue, with the International Olympic Committee and football world governing body FIFA telling the Commission in September that it “does not fall within the EU’s competence”.
Luxembourg’s Sports Minister Jeannot Krecké said that, “whilst being independent, the sports movement cannot act entirely in isolation as it needed to be covered legally”. He also added that the sports world is not yet accustomed to dialogue with trade unions and employees. In a stark warning to the sports movement, he said that “the sporting world would do better to discuss with us than with magistrates at the European Court of Justice because that is what will happen if we cannot organise sport”.
COMBATING OBESITY AND FUNDING SPORT
Two central aspects of the White Paper are set to be its health aspects and job creation. In one of their most concrete recommendations, sports ministers suggested that common European guidelines for health-enhancing physical activity be drafted.
MEP Pál Schmitt (EPP-ED, Hungary), who is also a former Olympian and International Olympic Committee member, said that people’s lazy lifestyles had been identified as a major cause of obesity, especially among young people, and that school-based physical education had fallen markedly since the 1990s.
Earlier, UK Sports Minister Richard Caborn had set out the UK’s efforts to build physical activity back into the nation’s lives after “four or five decades in which town planners, architects, work patterns and the development of computer technologies had driven it out of people’s lives”. The UK has set targets for 5-16 year-olds to have two hours of sport per week in schools and is building towards four hours per week.
Various initiatives across the EU were funded by EU money in 2004, the European Year of Education Through Sport, but since then EU funding has all but dried up. With no legal basis for sport, the Commission is unable to spend money on sports projects per se. However, answering
Europolitics’s question about what would be done to heal the growing divide between amateur and professional sport, as pinpointed by Schmitt, Commissioner Figel’ did say that mainstreaming sport in education/youth, culture and citizenship programmes could be one of the supporting measures in efforts to help grassroots sport. In the press conference, he identified the long-term funding of grassroots sport as an important issue for member states, who he believes need to work more closely together on that.
Figel’ also announced that a sports organisation, the European Health and Fitness Association, had joined the European Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. An official explained that the body would have to submit its commitments and that these would be monitored in due course.
MEASURES TO HELP VOLUNTEERING
Ministers confirmed that an EU working group to review the status of non-profit sport organisations in relation to EU law would be set up and that the difference between voluntary non-profit sports organisations and profit-seeking business enterprises should be taken into consideration in EU policies.
“There are ten million volunteers in the EU,” said Figel’. “Without volunteering, many sports disciplines would cease to exist.”
Finland’s Culture Minister Tanja Saarela told fellow sports ministers that “internal market rules can be problematic, with the same rules being applied to non-profit organisations as to businesses”. She explained that, even if the former had some economic activity, their aim was to create opportunities for people to take part in sport, thereby preventing marginalisation in society.
Italy’s Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri called for a comparative analysis across the EU, in which thresholds beyond which an activity is no longer considered voluntary but considered as a professional service would be determined in each member state as “this would have implications for the tax system”. She indicated that this could lead to harmonisation and would be one way of removing obstacles to volunteering in sport.
SPORT’S ROLE IN CREATING JOBS
Figel’ drew attention to the growing economic impact of sport, with more professionalisation and commercialisation leading to positive spin-offs for tourism and health industries in local economies. He said that a roughly 60% increase in the number of sports-related jobs in ten years was evidence of that. In their conclusions, EU sports ministers called for the EU to work on common EU-wide data and statistical definitions to improve the understanding and raise the visibility of sport’s growth and job creation potentials.
On 27 November, MEP Guy Bono (PES, France), co-rapporteur for a European Parliament report on professional football, called for a sports body to be created in the Commission with powers to penalise sports companies (for example football clubs). The body would carry out anti-fraud action and monitor compliance with EU law, especially regarding rules on ‘player agents’. He also wants sports companies to have an EU legal status.
The German EU Presidency, which starts in January 2007, will look at anti-doping issues, the economic impact of sport and the social dimension of sport. EU sports directors are to meet in Bonn in February.