"Mass participation in sport once or twice a week is our aim" Latvia puts focus on grassroots sport in EU conference and own sport policy
Edgars Severs, Deputy State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. Photos: Latvian Presidency
Last month ISCA President Mogens Kirkeby presented at the international conference Sport and Physical Activity for Development of the Human Capital, hosted by the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The conference put relationships between grassroots sport and topics such as social inclusion, health and wellbeing, and urban planning into the spotlight. It also highlighted the emphasis Latvia is placing on grassroots sport in its own policy, as Kirkeby observed:
“Both the Minister responsible for sport in Latvia and the Director of the Sport Department, with whom I presented at one of the conference sessions, stressed the political priority of grassroots sport and participation in Latvia. This is good!”
The Director of the Latvian Sports Department who presented alongside Kirkeby in the ‘Education and Learning through Sport’ workshop was Edgars Severs, the Deputy State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science. ISCA spoke to Severs after the conference to find out why Latvia is prioritising sport for all.
Interview with Edgards Severs, Deputy State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science and Director of the Sport Department
Q. The Latvian Presidency has made grassroots sport a priority this year. With elite sports issues dominating the political landscape in many countries, this prioritisation of grassroots sport is not always common. Why is has the Latvian Presidency decided to put an emphasis on mass participation in sport and physical activity?
A. Firstly, the rationale is the national policy in this area. At the end of 2013, the Latvian government approved Sport Policy Guidelines for 2014–2020. With “Sport for the quality of life” as the leading theme of Latvia’s sport policy, we pay particular attention to children and young people. Additionally, I would like to underline that the Sport Policy Guidelines were developed in close cooperation with non-governmental sport organisations national sport movement. This is the way we implement good governance in sport. At the same time, agreeing on common goals means there is a consensus for direction we should work for.
Secondly, the role of grassroots sports as a priority of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) basically derives from the implementation of the EU Work Plan for Sport 2014–2017 and it is closely linked with one of its priorities –
Sport and Society. When developing our agenda for the first half of 2015, we had to stick to the EU Work Plan, as well as harmonise our priorities with the job that our colleagues from the Italian Presidency had carried out. That is the formal aspect.
We are aware of the importance of elite sport and a system which nurtures outstanding talent from an early age. However, over time the emphasis has changed from elite to balanced development of all directions of sport policy. Mass participation in sport at least once or twice a week, as stated in the Sport Policy Guidelines, is our aim.
As we know, physical activity rates are not very high, neither in Latvia nor in Europe at large. Our policy is to change that trend and we think that grassroots sport is the tool.
The added value of grassroots sport is beyond question, and I would like to highlight that there are ways to do it differently. During the Presidency’s milestone event in sport, the international conference Sport and Physical Activity for Development of Human Capital on 16 February in Riga, my presentation on Ghetto games movement showed yet another great example of the untapped potential of non-traditional grassroots sport forms.
Q. What will this prioritisation of grassroots sport involve at a practical level? Are there any events or actions planned aside from the conference Sport and Physical Activity for Development of Human Capital in February?
A. We have to accept that the Presidency lasts only six months. The conference was the only event of its kind. However, despite the limited number of such events held under the Latvian Presidency, they have attracted public interest from all across Europe. I think that new knowledge, exchange of experience and awareness is a good starting point concerning practice. Of course, there are a lot of events taking place at national level annually and events organised by other public bodies.
What do you expect the impact of the Latvian Presidency's grassroots sport priority to be? Could it be on other EU member states? On the amount of money put towards grassroots sport in the Latvian, budget? Or any other impacts?
A. I am completely confident that support systems and implementation mechanisms for grassroots sport have been strengthened in many EU Member States. We are aware of the goals we should meet and generally, we know the potential benefits. The question is – could we do it better, could we diversify it? Unambiguous initiatives may change the attitude of stakeholders. As for the ministry, our task is to attract attention and resources. For example, one of the main goals of the conference Sport and physical activity for development of human capital was to highlight the added value of sport, i.e. that sport facilitates the development of skills. It is not a discovery but it prompts us to seek solutions to use the full potential of sport.
Q. How much is the Latvian government already allocating to grassroots sport?
A. To answer this, I’d have to explain briefly the principles of sport funding in Latvia. Sport is mainly funded from the state budget (administered by the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science), from local governments and from sponsors and international assignations. Local governments are the leading stakeholders at practical level regarding the organisation and the funding of events.
In case of funding of the grassroots sport, there are two main resources – state budget for sport and the funding from donations of the state capital companies. According to the legislation, annual allocations are provided only for recognised sport federations. In addition to these, there is a fund of 70,000 EUR for grassroots sports events for 2015. The Latvian Sports Federations Council, which is an umbrella organisation, administers this funding, which is allocated according to open competition.
At the conference Severs presented "Ghetto Games", a Latvian Street Sport initiative. Find out more about Ghetto Games here