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Free trade vs “SPORT FOR ALL”?

“This is the biggest threat ever posed to the funding of our national grassroots sports institutions. The stakes could not be higher.”

 

So stated DGI President Søren Møller during an open session of the ISCA General Assembly in May 2004. Møller is just one of a growing number of European sports leaders who are concerned about the opening up of Europe’s national gambling markets to foreign competition. Already, private Internet gambling companies are taking market share from state organisations. And if the trend continues, critics fear, “Sport for All” will be the biggest loser.

 

Currently, revenue from many of Europe’s state lotteries and gambling operations is used to fund grassroots sports projects across the continent. New sports equipment for schools, activities for the disabled, the nurturing of talent and the encouragement of volunteers are all examples of “Sport for All” initiatives funded by Europe’s state gambling operators, which were responsible for donating a massive 14.4 billion Euros in 2002.

However, citing the principle of free trade, a powerful group of politicians and representatives of the new, Internet-only gambling companies are lobbying for the dismantling of Europe’s state gambling monopolies. And worryingly for “Sport for All” bodies, a recent EU directive on provision of services appears to agree in principle to the idea of an unregulated gambling market. Earlier this year, the so-called “Gambelli Decision” saw the European Court rule that employees of Internet gambling companies have a right to work anywhere in the European Union – regardless of national law. It also ruled that state gambling monopolies are illegal if they serve only as a means of generating public revenues.

 

However, the Italian Supreme Court has since decreed that the nation’s state gambling monopoly is legal as it serves to protect citizens against gambling addiction. A series of further cases are set to continue in courts across the continent.

 

But is the spread of Internet betting an inevitable result of European integration? Søren Møller, who raised the issue at the 2004 ISCA World Congress, thinks not.


Serious consequences for “Sport for All”

“It is free trade taken too far,” he told CultureSports.

 

“The freeing up of Europe’s gambling markets could prove disastrous for “Sport for All” organisations. Many rely directly on funding from national lotteries and state betting organisations for their existence.”

 

“Alternative models do exist,” he added. “We see examples of trade restrictions on, say, alcohol and cigarettes. Why not on gambling? Private gambling companies could either be restricted from competing in certain areas or subjected to a tax similar to that paid by the state sponsored institutions - a kind of “charitable” levy.”

 

However, Søren Møller asserted that strong lobbying is needed to counter a recent European Commission proposal to phase out all national gambling monopolies by 2020.
“We must lobby our governments to oppose this development,” he emphasized. “Otherwise, our children and grandchildren will not be able to enjoy the same benefits that we have enjoyed.”

 

Another opponent of the current trend is Theo Flederus, Secretary General of the Netherlands Olympic Committee and the Netherlands Sports Confederation, who warns of dire consequences for grassroots sport in his nation.

 

“About 70% of the proceeds of the Netherlands’ two lotteries, the Lotto and the Scratch Lottery, goes to sports,” he told CultureSports. “The current proposal by the Commission could dramatically harm the development of sport in the Netherlands.”
“The problem is not our objection to freedom of services. But lotteries are specific services that cannot be compared with regular businesses and should not be treated in the same way.”

 

“Even though (state) lotteries present themselves as commercial in order to draw the consumer’s attention, they are idealistic organisations, aiming at generating maximum receipts for their beneficiaries,” he continued.

 

“What counts for these lotteries is maximum receipts for good causes.” Both in Europe and beyond, many “Sport for All” projects supported by state betting outlets play a vital role in promoting integration and development.

 

Numorous worthwhile projects are part-funded by these revenues, and ISCA itself is wholly opposed to any reduction in this important funding resource. All those in opposition to the current trend in Europe agree that a united front is needed to stem the drift towards full market deregulation.




Europe’s gambling market - what’s at stake?

• Gamblers bet on a variety of sports events or lotteries organised by national governments. Outlets are typically in news stands or kiosks.
• Governments channel profits from these betting outlets into “worthy causes” – public sports facilities, development and sports education or elite training.
• However, new, Internet-only companies are able to offer more attractive gambling prices and therefore increase their profits at the expense of the state-supported bodies. These private companies do not support “Sport for All” organisations.