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Interview with Yves le Lostecque, Head of the EU Sport Unit

On the eve of the new Erasmus+ programme...


The European Parliament is set to adopt its new Erasmus+ programme for sport, education, training and youth in 2014-2020, which will encompass seven previous European Commission programmes including Lifelong Learning, Youth in Action and Erasmus Mundus.


The new Head of the Sport Unit of the European Commission, Yves Le Lostecque, spoke at the Play the Game conference in Aarhus on 30 October, 2013, revealing some of the implications the new programme is likely to have for sports organisations seeking support from the EU in the coming years. He said that, although the budget for the programme is still under negotiation with the member states, there is likely to be a significant boost in funding to projects accepted through the Sport Unit’s Preparatory Actions in the Field of Sport alone.


“This year for sport under the Preparatory Actions we had €6 million. From next year until 2020 we will have on average – this is our first projection – €33 million per year,” he said.


“This is really a minimum, because the probable amount will be much higher for sport. We will start next year, 2014, with €19.3 million minimum. We will know this for sure in a couple of weeks. And of this €19.3 million, maybe €15-16 million will be put towards collaborative projects.”


He outlined four general streams of support, from the collaborative projects mentioned above (which are in line to receive 80% of the funding), to European sports events, policy making (including support for research) and dialogue with European stakeholders (such as events like the European Sport Forum). An additional funding stream could also be added to the list in the form of EU Presidency event support.

The Sport Unit will focus on seven priority areas for sport, and Le Lostecque listed the three that resonated most with some of Play the Game’s key themes, good governance, match-fixing and doping. The question remained for those present at the session in which he presented, on sports participation, how another of its key “focus areas”, grassroots sport, will be catered for under the new Erasmus+ umbrella.


All of the details about the Erasmus+ programme are expected to be announced within the next two months, including new calls for proposals for general support and special event funding.

Meanwhile, ISCA interviewed Yves Le Lostecque during the conference to find out more about what the new programme means for grassroots sport.


Q: Yesterday you spoke about the new Erasmus+ programme and you said there would be a focus on grassroots sport, and then you mentioned three out of the seven priority areas that you would also be focusing on in the Sport Unit: good governance, doping and match fixing. These areas are quite elite sport focused. So I was wondering, how will grassroots sport be reflected in the new structure?

A: It’s true that grassroots sport is really the focus of our future programme. It was our choice, but in the negotiation it has been stressed or even more emphasised by the European Parliament and the Council of Europe. So how are we going to proceed concretely? How will it work? First of all, concerning the fields covered, you mentioned three of them and they don’t just touch elite sport. Doping, for instance, is a question of elite sport but also of sport as a whole, and at the moment we are working on doping and recreational sport, which is also an issue. What I didn’t mention is that apart from these three priorities, there are four other strands that will be covered by the programme. One of them, which will be a key priority next year, is health-enhancing physical activity. This is clearly targeted to grassroots sport. We will also have a social inclusion dimension for sport and gender equality. So the other strands are very clearly targeted to grassroots sport.


In the work programme and the programme guide, we have ensured that the criteria allow as much participation from grassroots sport organisations as possible. The number of partners has been reduced in the process of discussion. Two years ago, in order to get finance in the sport sector, you also had to have a private partner; to find private funding in addition to the budget of the project. Last year it was not an obligation; it was a possibility which gave you additional points in the selection process. This year, in order to allow grassroots sport organisations to participate, we have given up this obligation. So it’s no longer an obligation and it’s no longer a criterion giving you additional points, and I think that grassroots sport organisations are very happy about that.


Q: Where did the influence or motivation come from to have a focus on grassroots sport in the Sport Unit?

A: Because there is a need. I think there is a tradition of partnerships between grassroots sport organisations and they are waiting for some help and support from Brussels. When I say there is a need, I mean that professional sport doesn’t need money. We have contacts with professional sport, but they don’t come to us to ask for money. We have discussions on other issues: transfers, freedom of movement, rules of nationality and things like that. But we know on the other side that the other part of sport is very important for health and wellbeing and also for the economy. This is a reality and this is a part of the sports family that we must take care of. It’s not new, but it has been emphasised these days. One week ago, Commissioner Vassiliou got a TAFISA [Association for International Sport for All] prize for her investment in grassroots sport during her mandates, so this is a recognition of the work she has done during the five years of her mandate in favour of this particular family of sport.


Q: How do you see Erasmus+ tying into the other Directorates in the European Commission, like health, transport and other areas?

A: Of course, each programme has its own autonomy and its own way of functioning, but we try as much as possible in the EU to avoid having a silo mentality. For instance, I will just mention one example on one key action for 2014, health enhancing physical activity. We must cooperate a lot with DG SANCO, which is formally responsible for health, and which has already taken some action in terms of the fight against obesity and the fight in favour of good nutrition. So first, it’s an opportunity given by the programme and second, it’s a necessity and a wish for the Directorates-General to cooperate. This was an example I quoted because it will be the actuality for next year. But we could say the same for the structural funds or other programmes, or research touching education, clearly, and programmes by other Directorates. Our programme is a concentration of other programmes that existed separately before and it’s clear, for instance, that if a sports organisation has a good project touching education or youth, it could also benefit from support in this field. So we want to avoid, as much as possible, distinctions or separations between areas. What is important is the aim of the project and its substance.


Q: Next year it will be the Presidencies of Greece and Italy and the Erasmus+ programme will unfold over the year. Will it be connected in any way, or are there any priorities around these two countries?

A: Yes. The programme does not have its own life, I would say. The programme is there to serve political priorities and the main objectives of the Union, in this specific case in the field of sport. All Presidencies coordinate their work at the EU level and insist on their priorities. But each Presidency has its own specific interest. For instance, we know that the Greeks are going to insist especially on gender equality. So the Erasmus+ programme will be there to help this priority. Next year will be a key year for preparing for the future. In terms of policy, we had a new Work Plan for Sport for 2011-2014. We are in the process of evaluating it and we will make suggestions to the Council. The Council will discuss it in the first semester of 2014 under the Greek Presidency, and during this semester, normally, priorities for the next four years will be fixed. I’m sure some of them, as we mentioned, will be inside health and sport, the fight against doping and good governance in sport. So this Presidency will prepare for the next 3-4 years, and Erasmus+ will be the tool for financing and supporting these priorities.


By Rachel Payne, ISCA