What’s Next for European Sports Governance and How Will It Address Its Current Challenges?
Sports governance became a hot topic within Europe in 2021, particularly in light of the proposed establishment of new competitions, particular football club takeovers, and financial fair play matters, as well as the challenges posed by the Covid 19 pandemic to sport’s sustainability.
The ‘specificity of sport’ was recognised by the amended Treaty of the European Union, which came into force in 2009 (although it had been initiated through certain rulings of the European Court of Justice and the decisional practice of the European Commission for some time prior to that).
However, in late 2021, a resolution of the Council of the European Union on a European Sport Model (the “Resolution“) was adopted which calls for EU institutions to take a more substantive role in supporting the sport sector for the next decade and to set out what it considers to be the fundamental features of European sports policy. The Resolution follows the European Parliament overwhelmingly supporting a report on EU Sports Policy (the “Report“).
The Report recognises, amongst other things, the “unique power of sport to promote positive change and transmit values across borders” and its emergence as an “increasingly important economic phenomenon… [which] generates an added value of EUR 279.7 billion of the [European] Union’s GDP”.
This blog post focuses on summarising the key findings and recommendations from the Report.
Summary of the Report: Key Features and Recommendations for a European Sports Model
Strengthening visibility, cooperation and the mainstreaming of sport in EU policies
The Report recommends the creation of posts within the European Commission tasked with enhancing links between the main EU institutions and important sports stakeholders. By doing so, the European Parliament believes it can play a key role in providing a framework for regular debate, communication and, ultimately, decision making with respect to sports policy.
The key aspect of this theme is visibility. The European Parliament, the Report states, needs to be seen as having sport high on its agenda. The Report also recommends the nomination of an ‘EU Sports Coordinator’ charged with the role of enhancing cross-sectoral cooperation, as well as knowledge development and exchange on sports issues.
Enhancing the principles of a European sports model
The Report refers to the need to preserve the principles of “sporting merit, open competition, competitive balance and solidarity”. In order to do this, the Report highlights the need for funding to be distributed more equally throughout sporting pyramids in Europe, particularly at a grassroots level.
The Report further refers to the need for public authorities, sporting federations and organisations to take into account the values of “democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights” when awarding host status for major sporting events. This is in addition to a call for the EU institutions and the European Parliament having a more active role to play in promoting these values more generally through sports diplomacy.
Commitment to good governance and integrity
The Report sets out that good governance in sport requires progressive action on gender equality and inclusiveness to allow for better representation of all stakeholders operating at different levels within sport.
An important mention is given to both athletes and spectators, with a recognition of how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the experiences of both. Athletes, the Report states, deserve the same ‘respect and protection of their rights as other European workers’. The Report also recommends that representatives from fan organisations be given greater participation in sports governance.
A further mention is given to the need to appropriately manage the ethical challenges that European sport faces, including match fixing, doping and financial transparency (particularly in the football transfer market).
Ensuring safe, inclusive and equal sport
The Report focuses its attention on areas of sport that it believes require further attention to safety, inclusivity and equality. This includes women’s sport, sport for people with mental and physical disabilities as well as participation in sport for refugees arriving in Europe.
On women’s sport, the Report looks forward to the recommendations that the EU High Level Group on Gender Equality in Sport will put forward. Before then, there is an acknowledgement of a ‘play gap’ in terms of women’s participation in practicing sport as well as administering it.
People with mental and physical disabilities suffer from a lack of equal access to sport. As such, the Report recommends that funding be increased to support their participation.
The Report then acknowledges how refugees, particularly children, are extremely vulnerable when arriving in Europe. A recommendation is made to ensure young refugee athletes receive extra support and legal help from sport organisations since the Report recognises that sport has the power to “serve as a vector of integration” and “foster a sense of belonging”.
Promoting healthy and active lifestyles together with education and development opportunities
This fifth theme revolves around public health. The Report notes increasing issues related to obesity and inactivity. Of this, it views greater involvement in sport for EU citizens, particularly for children, as an effective solution. A significant point is made about how young people in Europe should leave the school system with the knowledge of how to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Helping sport to ensure a successful recovery following the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic
There is a recognition that the sports sector, as a whole, is facing extreme economic difficulties as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic and requires substantive support mechanisms.
Supporting the transition to a sustainable and innovative future
This is an area high on the agenda of global political institutions and, in this respect, the EU is no different. The Report states that sport organisations have a responsibility to advance a green agenda in sport, both in terms of addressing its own carbon footprint and using its uniquely powerful force in contributing to environmental education and behaviour change.
The final recommendation in the Report comes in support of expanding the use of technology to the benefit of all stakeholders in sport across a wide range of areas (with particular reference to the role it can play in performance analysis, audience experience, protecting sporting integrity, tackling match-fixing and doping). Interestingly, the Report also recommends a further report on the social and economic impact of e-sport (particularly taking into account its interest amongst younger generations).
What’s next for 2022?
More detailed and substantiated proposals based on the recommendations in the Report are awaited in due course.
From a UK perspective, the adoption of the Resolution has coincided with the publication of the fan-led review of football governance in the UK, led by Tracey Crouch MP (the “Fan-Led Review of Football Governance”). There are a number of thematic similarities between the principles considered in the Report and the Fan-Led Review of Football Governance. UK observers will be keenly awaiting the government’s response to this review, which is due in Spring 2022.
 Article 165 of the Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community, 13 December 2007, 2007/C 306/01
Andrew Bennett contributed to this article.