The European Union & Sport: a new model of governance (& innovation)?

Pubblicato il 09 Set 2019

This is the third article by Trentino Sviluppo – Area Marketing Strategico (progetto Cluster Sport) to explore how the world of the sports industry is evolving and innovating thru technology and new business models. The first one is herewhile the second one is here

Sport is a fairly recent competence of the EU.  The European Union (EU) has limited competences in the field of sport, but this “soft policy” has gained increasing traction and significance at an EU level.

The analytical history of sport in EU decision-making

Leaving aside the jurisprudence and simplifying the evolution of sport in EU history, it is possible to trace back the origins of the sport policy in the EU governance to the “Adonnino Report” of 1985, when an ad hoc Committee was instituted in order to develop the “People’s Europe”: it was the first time that the idea of sport was considered in EU discussions and – as we shall see – the first of a long series.

Fast-forward to the Declaration 29 of the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997: it sanctions the first mentioning of the sports policy in an official document of the EU, after years of marginalization of the concept of sport at a European level. The focus was primarily on sport as a social phenomenon of aggregation, as an instrument of cohesion and of communication among individual citizens [it’s worth remembering however that this was not a legally-binding document].

The following quantum leaps for the EU sport policy are the Helsinki Report  in 1999 (which focused on the safeguard of the sport infrastructure, the social function of sport in the EU framework and a set of ethical dimension of sport policy like anti-doping, violence in-stadium et al.) and the Declaration of the European Council in Nice in 2000 (which declared the specificity of sport and the social function of sport).

The Constitutional debate in 2004, which frames the “sporting exception” and a series of rules, is followed by the White Paper on Sport in 2007 which – in turns –articulates the strategic agenda; encourages specific discussions on specific problems; increases the visibility of sport in the decision-making processes of the EU; highlights the specificity and the autonomy of the sport sector and identifies scope of action for additional actions in the future. In particular, the White Paper on Sport focuses on three dimensions, which will become pivotal in the follow-up steps: (1) the social role of sport; (2) the economic dimension of sport; and (3) the organization of sport.

Everything will culminate with the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 (when sport becomes part of the Treaties of the EU with article 6 and article 165), with “Developing the European Dimension in Sport” – the Communication of the European Commission in 2011 and the consequential 3-year EU Work Plan for Sport (2011-2014; 2014-2017; 2017-2020). Again, in all these documents, the strategic focus is on (1) the social role of sport; (2) the economic dimension of sport and (3) the governance of sport.

For a detailed overview on sport and the EU:

An analytical point: sport & innovation

The European Commission can only support the Member States and sports organization and promote EU initiatives in the field of sport. Two principles remain sovereign: the so-called “specificity of sport” and the autonomy of sport organisations.

Despite the limited competences, however, the European Union – and the European Commission in particular – have forged a special relationship with sport: they can facilitate dialogues and exchanges among the Member States; support organisation; put the spotlight on specific topics (like social integration) and give funding to organisation in order to transform policies into action.

We will not concentrate here other relevant elements (like for example good governance principles; gender equality in sport et alia), but on a specific analytical point – that of sport and innovation.

Yes, indeed, sport in a “soft policy” for the EU, but there is a funding program called “Erasmus +: Sport”. Sport was given for the first time a budget in 2014 and “Erasmus +: Sport” has a budget of 270 million Euro in the 2014-2020 period. This programme is not primarily innovation-centric, but learning, exchanges, and collaboration are the key drivers in this regard.

For a specific illustration of the programme please check and double-check and

Furthermore, the regional dimension – of EU structural funds in particular – is a pivotal element of EU policy-making and we can see this dimension is growing in importance in terms of analysis (see for instance the “Study on the contribution of sport to regional development through the Structural Funds”), in terms of policy focus (see for instance the Share Initiative and the Smart Specialisation Platform on Industry Modernisation dedicated to sport – ClusSport) and in terms of events (see for instance the meeting which will take place in Brussels on October 9th during the European Week of Cities and Region and where Trentino Sviluppo has been invited as a speaker – “Sport for Active & Healthy Communities”).

The Italian Presidency of European Council in 2014 and mostly the Austrian Presidency of the European Council in 2018 is illustrative of a new trend – as the Council (i.e. where the competent Ministers meet at an EU level – in this case, the Ministers for Sport) has approved in November 2018 the Conclusions on the Economic Dimension Of Sport And Its Socio-Economic Benefits. This is a future-oriented and forward-looking approach, but it is a good step in the right direction.

The current Finnish Presidency of the Council, shaping the heart of the policy-making debate and the future orientations of the programmes and funds, is currently articulating a vision for the “economy of well-being” – and, even if the sport is partially marginalized, it is part and parcel of the equation.

The future

After a gradual integration of sport into EU policy-making, sport has emerged as a vector of ideas, a multiplier of innovation (and integration) and a pillar of the EU debate. This is an evolution we welcome and this will reinforce the debate on the European model of sports governance (on this, the French Government just launched a special study). This should be done not only an elite/professional level, however, but also at a grassroot level.

The future agenda of the European Union in sport will be influenced by events, strategies, and programs – but we believe it will be key for the future to connect the dots: example of this integration of policy areas is inherent in the Tartu Call for a Healthy Life Style, a declaration signed 2 years ago by 3 European Commissioners – respectively under the leadership of Tibor Navracsics (European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth & Sport), Vytenis Andriukaitis (European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety) and Phil Hogan (European Commissioner for Agriculture & Rural Development), updated last June in a joint conference, where different strategic actors of EU policy-making converged in the common fight for a healthy lifestyle.

The future has just begun, but there is a lot of work to do, mostly on sport-innovation, also at an EU level.

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