The Social Fuction of Sports

This report, presented to the Helsinki European Council on 11 and 12 December 1999, is the result of the mandate given to the Commission by the Vienna European Council on 11 and 12 December 1998.
2. Sport is one of the areas of activity that most concerns and brings together the citizens of the European Union, irrespective of age and social origin. More than half of them regularly practice a sport, either in one of the 700 000 clubs that exist in the Union or outside these clubs. Almost two million teachers, instructors and voluntary workers spend their working or leisure time organising sporting activities. These people play an essential role of education and social integration, at a time when our societies are experiencing major problems of social cohesion and cultural identity.
3. This social function of sport, which is in the general interest, has for some years been affected by the emergence of new phenomena of a different nature which sometimes call into question the ethics of sport and the principles on which it is organised: phenomena such as violence in the stadiums, corruption, the spread of doping, the exploitation of young sportsmen and women, and the search for quick profits to the detriment of a more balanced development of sport.

4. In spite of certain differences between the Member States, there are many common features in the ways in which sport is practised and organised in the Union, and it is therefore possible to talk of a European approach to sport.
For several years, the European approach to sport has been affected by several phenomena:
· the rise in the popularity of sport in terms of the numbers of practitioners and spectators;
· the internationalisation of sport, with the increase in the number of international competitions;
· the unprecedented development of the economic dimension of sport, with the spectacular increase in television rights.
5. These phenomena provide certain advantages for sport and society. For example, the number of jobs created directly or indirectly by the sport industry has risen by 60% in the past ten years to reach nearly 2 million.
It has to be recognised, however, that these phenomena may also strain, or even contradict, certain basic principles of sport:
· the overloading of sporting calendars may be considered to be one of the causes of the expansion of doping;
· the increase in the number of lucrative sporting events, which may end up promoting the commercial approach, to the detriment of sporting principles and the social function of sport;
· the temptation for certain sporting operators and certain large clubs to leave the federations in order to derive the maximum benefit from the economic potential of sport for themselves alone. This tendency may jeopardise the principle of financial solidarity between professional and amateur sport and the system of promotion and relegation common to most federations;
· the hazardous future facing young people who are being led into top-level competitive sport at an increasingly early age, often with no other vocational training, with the resulting risks for their physical and mental health and their future integration into other employment;
· the search for quick profits (effects of over-commercialisation), linked to the internationalisation of sport, may lead to inequalities for certain smaller or less populous countries whose top-level sportsmen and women choose to go abroad to exercise their talents, thereby weakening the level of sport in these countries.
Strengthening the educational and social role of sport
6. The Declaration on sport annexed to the Amsterdam Treaty “emphasises the social significance of sport, in particular its role in forging identity and bringing people together”. Sporting activities therefore need to have a place in the education system of each Member State.
7. The values that sporting activities represent (equal opportunities, fair play, solidarity, etc.) must also be passed on by sports associations, which make a key contribution to education and training of young people and to democratic life and to the life of society. This is because sport has become one of the most important mass phenomena in our societies. It affects all social classes and age groups and is an essential tool for social integration and education.
8. With this in mind, Community action could focus on the following objectives:
· improving the position of sport and physical education at school through the Community programmes;
· promoting the retraining and future integration into the labour market of sportsmen and women;
· promoting convergence between the training systems for sports workers in each Member State.
Better defining the legal environment
9. The development of positive measures to preserve the social function of sport must go hand in hand with the creation of a more certain and more stable legal environment, so that this social and educational function can be reconciled with the increase in the economic dimension of sport.
This new approach should be founded on the reaffirmed and updated principles of sporting ethics and the Olympic ideal and should clarify the legal framework for sports operators.
The European Union has an essential part to play in implementing this new approach, given the increasing number of conflicts in the world of sport and the divergent responses, notably through court proceedings.
10. The increase in the number of court proceedings is the sign of growing tension: for example, the Bosman judgment, delivered by the Court of Justice in December 1995 on the basis of the principle of freedom of movement for workers, has had major repercussions on the organisation of sport in Europe. It has done much to eliminate certain abuses and to promote the mobility of sportsmen and women. However, it has affected the economic balance between clubs and players and has caused problems for the training of young people in clubs. Certain clubs which had established training centres for professional sportsmen and women have seen their best people leave, without the clubs being able to obtain any compensation for the investment they have made in training.
Principles for partnership between the European Institutions, the Member Sates and the sports organisations
11. There is a need for a new partnership between the European institutions and Member States on the one hand, and the sports organisations on the other, in order to encourage the promotion of sport in European society, respect for sporting values and safeguarding of the autonomy of sports organisations and the principle of subsidiarity.
12. This partnership will be based on the following principles:
· the European Union recognises the eminent role played by sport in European society and attaches the greatest importance to the maintenance of its functions of social integration, education and contributing to public health and to the general interest function performed by the federations;
· the integrity and autonomy of sport must be preserved. The purchase of sports clubs by commercial bodies (media groups, etc.) must, if permitted, be governed by clear rules, out of concern for the preservation of sporting structures and ethics;
· the system of promotion and relegation is one of the characteristics of European sport. This system gives small or medium-sized clubs a better chance and rewards sporting merit;
· doping and sport are diametrically opposed. There can be no tolerance in the fight against doping;
· the “trade” in young sportsmen and women must be combated. Each young sportsman or woman trained by a club for top-level competition must receive vocational training in addition to sports training.
The absence of coordination between the sports protagonists (federations, Member States and the European Community), all of them working in isolation, could thwart the efforts to achieve these common principles. In contrast, the convergent efforts of the European Community, the Member States and the sports federations could make an effective contribution to the promotion in Europe of sport in a form that remains true to its social role, while enabling its organisational aspects to take account of the new economic order.

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