Commission unveils first-ever sport package
The plans are outlined in a communication unveiled by Sports Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou in Strasbourg on 18 January. The communication, entitled 'Developing the European Dimension in Sport', sets out the EU's first-ever sports programme, a limited version of which the EU executive hopes to launch in 2012 ahead of the first fully-fledged raft of policies in 2014.
"Sport is important for Europe's economy and a key component of its social model," said Commissioner Vassiliou at the communication's launch in Strasbourg. The Commission is proposing action at EU level in areas where it believes the challenges cannot be sufficiently dealt with by governments alone. These include the societal role of sport, its economic dimension and the organisation of sport in Europe. "The measures we have adopted today highlight sport’s contribution to our society and will help improve the way sport is run," Vassiliou said.
No money available
The build-up to the communication's launch has been marred by concerns as to whether the Commission will have enough funding for the new policy after sweeping budget cuts in EU capitals triggered calls for the European Union's budget to be slashed.
"Article 165 gives us a legal basis but it doesn't give us a budget. Unfortunately the treaty came into force at exactly the wrong time and there's no money available at all," Gregory Paulger, director of DG Education and Culture at the European Commission - the department responsible for drafting the new EU sports policy - told a European Parliament hearing in November.
|Developing the European Dimension in Sport (PDF, 65.52 KB)|
Today's communication proposes that the EU should sign up to the Anti-Doping Convention of the Council of Europe, develop and implement security arrangements and safety requirements for international sports events, continue making progress towards introducing national targets based on the EU's Physical Activity Guidelines and develop standards for disabled access to sports events and venues.
On economic matters, the Commission calls on sports associations to establish mechanisms for the collective selling of media rights to ensure adequate redistribution of revenue.
The EU executive will also seek to address sport-related intellectual property rights, promote exchange of best practice on transparent and sustainable sports financing, monitor the application of state aid law in the field of sport and push for full exploitation of sport-related aspects of the EU's structural funds.
As for sports governance, the Commission will launch a study on transfer rules and issue guidance on "how to reconcile EU rules on the free movement of citizens with the organisation of competitions in individual sports on a national basis," and "consider further action regarding the activities of sports agents".
The Commission is currently funding preparatory actions in the field of sport. Among 12 new projects to be launched in 2011 outlined in today's communication are measures to prevent doping in amateur sport, promote volunteering and boost the social inclusion of migrants.
"Projects selected in 2009 and 2010 received funding of around €6.5m. The Commission will continue with these preparatory actions in 2011," the EU executive said. "It will evaluate them and then determine the best form of future EU action in this area," it added.
Court challenge pending?
Meanwhile, some observers believe that the EU's sports policy could be challenged in court given that the wording of the relevant Lisbon Treaty article is vague. Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty requires the Commission to develop the European dimension of sport by drawing up a specific EU policy programme, "while taking account of the specific nature of sport, its structures based on voluntary activity and its social and educational function". But it gives little detail of how this will be done, opening the door to interpretation by the courts.
Laurent Thieule, president of Sport and Citizenship, a leading EU sports think-tank, says the most significant outstanding issue is whether the specific nature of sport as described by the treaty could legally result in "a sporting exception".
The focus now turns to EU member states and members of the European Parliament, who will further develop the Commission's proposals and decide which policies to prioritise. "When and how will depend upon the political process which has just started," said the EU executive.
Mogens Kirkeby, president of the International Sport and Culture Association (ISCA), told EurActiv that "the ISCA expects […] the Communication and the proposed actions [to] strongly reflect the recent priorities of the Council and the European Parliament, having […] priorities on the principle of 'Sport for All' and an increased participation in sport and physical activity at grassroots level".
"The focus on 'Sport for All' at the recent Council meeting as well as the successful campaign to secure more than 50% of MEPs' signatures for the Written Declaration on increased support to grassroots sport should be followed up by the Commission in its upcoming communication and in its further actions," Kirkeby said.
"Though the Commission is likely to pay attention to a number of issues in sport, we believe the societal and political significance of increased participation in sport and physical activity at grassroots level ought to receive special focus and resources," he added.
UEFA described the publication of the Commission's communication on sport as "a positive development for sport and the future of European football".
"In the communication the European Commission gives its backing to many of UEFA's core values and key policies, including: UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations; centralised sale of TV rights; specific intellectual property rights for sport competition organisers; [and] the fight against illegal betting and match-fixing," said UEFA in a statement.
UEFA President Michel Platini said: "I am very happy to see the European Commission on our side on so many important issues for the future of European football. The Commission recognises the need to put football's finances in order, something that the UEFA Financial Fair Play regulations will help to do."
"The Commission's positive approach to the European sports model is also great news for football," he added.
"Financial stability has to be combined with legal stability, one of the remaining crucial issues for us. We also need urgent action on a topic close to my heart, the fight against match-fixing. I look forward to working with all relevant partners on these issues, as the world of sports cannot solve them alone," Platini said.
"UEFA supports this Communication and is optimistic that it will help form the basis of a more coherent legal structure for sport in the EU," the statement concluded.
ESSA, the European Sports Security Association, welcomed the emphasis that the European Commission's communication places on sports integrity and called on all stakeholders in sport to work together to ensure that this remains the highest priority.
"Through investment in security technology and through initiatives like ESSA, Europe's licensed, regulated bookmaking industry has taken a global leadership role in the fight against match fixing, all at no cost whatsoever to the sporting community or the European taxpayer," said ESSA in a statement.
However, in order to maintain the integrity of sport, ESSA called on the Commission and other stakeholders to "ensure that sports governing bodies act in the interest of their sport by acting on all information provided by ESSA and/or other early warning systems and put in place the mechanisms to ensure that, for any case of match fixing or suspected match fixing by either players or officials, the matter is dealt with effectively and decisively".
ESSA also urged the EU executive "to address other threats to sporting integrity with the same vigour as match-fixing".
"The Commission correctly identifies sport-related match-fixing as a serious threat to the integrity of sport, but does not recognise other, equally potent threats to integrity. These include the use of illegal performance-enhancing technology, sporting- and management-related financial irregularities, money laundering, espionage, the transfer of young players across borders and cheating, all of which have affected our most popular sports in recent years," read ESSA's statement.
"Only a holistic approach to tackling these threats will ensure the Commission's goal of placing clean and fair sport at the heart of the European Union," it said.
In a detailed position paper covering a wide range of issues featured in the Commission communication, leading EU sports think-tank Sport and Citizenship welcomed the document's publication and hailed its recognition of the specific nature of sport.
"We [...] regret the fact that no agenda has been developed in this communication," the think-tank declared, lamenting also the fact that "no new juridical tool" is proposed.
"Although the communication may be considered as an interpretation of Article 165 TFEU, it is worth underlining that it has no legal value per se," Sport and Citizenship said.
"Time is needed for political will to become concrete actions, and this document is undoubtedly part of this," the think-tank stated, calling on the EU institutions to give sport "the utmost importance when establishing the next multiannual financial framework".
"We are looking forward to the Commission's interpretation and definition of the 'specific nature of sport'," the think-tank announced, adding: "Even though the concept is interesting and seductive, there has not been any consensus regarding its definition yet."
Sport and Citizenship expressed concern, however, at the lack of money foreseen in the EU budget for spending on sports policy.
"[Our] main worry lies [...] in the fact that even though the communication announces many forthcoming actions aimed at developing the European dimension in sport, no specific sport budget can be foreseen at the moment," the position paper said, adding: "It is necessary to obtain a sport budget for the next financial period."
* 2011: Commission to fund 12 preparatory actions in the field of sport.
* 2012: Commission hopes to launch first fully-fledged sports policy.
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