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Why the “European Year of Education through Sport” wasn’t simply called the “European Year of Sport”?

And how sport can promote education? ISCA’s Jean-Luc Frast and co-writer Jacob Schouenborg explain.


The European Year of Education through Sport had some people shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering what on earth sport has to do with education. The answer is, at least partly, political. The European Commission can only support policy areas that are described in EU treaties as "community priorities". Sport is not yet one of these priorities, which means that the Commission cannot simply deal with sport on its own terms. However, once that little word "education" is added, the picture changes. Education IS referred to in EU treaties, and using sport as a tool for education is indeed possible. Problem solved!


So was the name of the year just a political cover-up? The answer is, in fact, no. Sport can be an excellent tool for learning, socialisation, integration, value-discussions and more. But this requires a certain perspective on sport.


Millions of Europeans watch, breathe and live for their favourite top-level soccer team. Players are idolised, games are televised and the sport is a huge business. The Olympic Games, too, is a world spectacle with no expenses spared. The US-based TV-station NBC, for example, recently paid US$ 2,300,000,000 for the coverage of three consecutive Olympic Games. Read the newspaper sports sections in any EU country, and the focus is invariably on a few, male dominated, professional sports. And let’s admit it - plenty of people are interested.


We are not saying that elite/professional sport should be dispensed with. Not at all. Certainly, there are serious issues to be dealt with, such as doping, injuries, health problems, corruption etc. But these issues should be addressed by the relevant people involved. Our point is that another world of sport also exists. One in which the focus is on broad participation, voluntary commitment, citizenship - and education.

A new perspective on sport

When practiced at local level - in clubs, in the streets and in schools, for example - sport has a great ability to educate. Sport can indeed be soccer or swimming or running. But it can also involve traditional games or dances or simply a new game invented for the occasion. The common factor is physical movement rather than the existence of different regulated sports.


To us, sports educational aspect involves non-formal training - that is, training outside formally approved schools, universities etc. And this does not only mean training to become better at a particular sport. We can make three distinctions - Education for,by and through sport.


Education for sport develops our technical competences. This is normally linked to well-defined disciplines of competitive sport, and in our terms, is of limited interest. Education by sport uses bodily activity to obtain certain social goals, such as ethnic reconciliation, people’s health, citizenship or social integration. Here, "Sport for All" is close to public welfare strategies and in training terms as well as in terms of the objectives of the European Commission and the Council of Europe, it is certainly relevant.


The third distinction, education through sport, is a method of bodily practice which creates existential learning between human beings. Popular sport is used for personal development by bodily encounter, a "school for life" and a method of creating trust. Obviously, we are talking about learning in a very broad sense - but indeed a sense that is gaining ground in political and training circles.


From our perspective, the European Year of Education through Sport 2004 was not only an opportunity to increase the amount of actual training taking place in this field, but also a great chance to promote this alternative view of sport. That is why ISCA was keen to use the year to help establish projects such as the International Academy of Sport for All (IASFA), more of which is detailed elsewhere in this magazine.


Sport and physical activity have huge potential to attract people from all kinds of social and ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, large parts of the NGO world consist of sports organisations, local clubs and leisure groups. These organisations can have a powerful impact on the living conditions of individuals as well as an enormous potential to influence the social cohesion of society. Here, we are not talking about training to reach excellence in a particular sport, but the benefits of participation in the social and organisational life of such associations. Here, the educational benefits are plain to see.

Different set-ups, different approaches

Supported by IASFA, the European Commission and the Council off Europe, the International Youth Leader Education Programme (IYLE) aims to utilise this great potential by enabling young people to become active members of their local club, community and larger environment. To achieve this goal, IYLE provides opportunities to take part in different non-formal educational activities such as four-month training courses in one of Denmark’s non-formal ‘Folk High Schools’, international 1-week training courses, international forums and youth camps.


The IYLE programme is intended to gives young people the opportunity to develop as human beings and become active and valuable citizens. The training alternates between theoretical leadership education and practical social, sports and cultural activities. Both the theoretical and the practical areas focus on the main objective - namely, to develop youth leaders who are capable of using sport, social and youth activities as a tool for development, social integration, community activities and intercultural understanding.


The IYLE programme will train about 600 young people in the next two years and will also create strong links for networking and new project initiatives. The creation of a training manual containing many different training activities combining physical activity and social issues will be one of the highlights of the next two years and will serve as a vital resource to NGOs interested in the field of education through sport. Moreover, IYLE will successfully contribute to intercultural understanding and bridge building between individuals, groups and local communities across Europe.


To sum up, we feel that a broader understanding of sport is needed. To achieve this, we urge greater focus on physical movement and "Sport for All" as tools for learning and training. Not just in sports clubs, but in all training situations. These tools are continuously being developed, and we encourage all those involved to enter into partnerships to ensure that they receive the widest possible exposure.

About the author and co-writer

Jean-Luc Frast

ISCA’s Youth Co-ordinator and IYLE programme officer, Jean-Luc Frast has been active in the field of youth policy and training since 1998. Before joining ISCA, he worked as a trainer and acting Director of the European Peer Training Association EPTO. He has also served as project officer at the National Youth Council of Luxembourg (CGJL) and the European Youth Forum Jeunesse (YFJ).


Jacob Schouenborg

Currently employed by the Danish Ministry of Culture, Jacob Schouenborg holds a masters degree in political science and has previously worked as ISCA Project Manager & Secretary General of the Nordic Youth Association (NSU). He has also worked as a volunteer in the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations, served on the youth committee of ISCA, and been a trainer in several youth training courses and camps.

What is IYLE?

ISCA’s "International Youth Leader Education" programme is specifically designed to integrate different "education through sport" activities to achieve social integration and non-formal education among young people. The activities include camps, non-formal training courses, seminars and forums. The integration of these activities creates a diverse yet cohesive programme that provides training, co-operation and exchange of information among young people.