Exclusive Interview

Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner in charge of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport


European sport policy began in 2007 with the adoption of the White Paper on Sport and it has now given rise to a good number of concrete programmes and measures. The European Commissioner responsible for Sport, Tibor Navracsics, sums up his two and a half years in the post and explains what the European Union plans to do in the future.


After 2 years and a half in your position of Commissioner responsible for sport, what is your first evaluation of the work done? What are you particularly proud of?

TN: First of all, I am proud of being the first ever Commissioner for sport. Beyond this symbolic recognition of the importance of sport at EU level, we have done a lot of work that we can build on. Promoting grassroots sport is one of my priorities, and we have made good progress here. The European Week of Sport launched in 2015 is a success story. We have to tackle physical inactivity and the Week helps us do just that. We will launch the third edition in Tartu with Vice President Andrus Ansip and Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis on 23 September, with all Member States on board. Second, we have advanced work to use grassroots sport more effectively in fostering social inclusion. I set up a High Level Group to give advice on how best to do this and we have made good progress on that basis: more support is available from Erasmus+, and we have simplified our procedures to ensure that smaller organisations get a fair chance to benefit from the programme. Moreover, in sports diplomacy we have opened up a completely new area in EU sports policy that gives opportunities to Member States and sport organisations as well. Governance issues in sport have come to the forefront during this period, and we want to help European sport organisations and federations deal with these challenges. The pledges from sport organisations to put in place solid good governance standards that I have been collecting since September 2016 are an important first step.

The Council just adopted a third EU Work Plan for Sport? How do you see the cooperation of the Commission with the Member States in its implementation?

TN: The cooperation with Member States is excellent in this area. The third EU Work Plan for Sport builds on the previous one, focussing on sport integrity, the economic dimension, and sport and society. Based on the evaluation of the previous work plan, we have agreed on some changes to make our joint work with Member States more efficient. There will be fewer expert groups, and we will make greater use made of evidence, for example from Erasmus+ projects.

Erasmus+ sport will be renegotiated in the coming 2 years? Do you think more could be done for grassroots sport?

TN: The funding from Erasmus+ is an important tool to implement EU sport policy priorities, especially at grassroots level. We have seen excellent projects in healthy lifestyle, social inclusion, volunteering and protecting the integrity of sport, for example through fighting doping and match-fixing.  We have adapted the programme to make it more accessible to grassroots sport: we introduced small collaborative projects, with fewer partners, smaller grants and lower own financial contributions. We have also simplified procedures to reduce the administrative burden. We will have to see what the future financial framework will look like. This is part of the bigger picture of the future of the EU. But Erasmus+ is undoubtedly one of the most successful programmes in the EU, and I am convinced that sport will remain an important part of the programme.

You were the first Commissioner ever to develop the concept of “sport diplomacy”. What are your ambitions in this field?

TN: Sport opens doors, it links communities and nations. In the world we live in today, sport diplomacy can help overcome cultural differences and bring people together. It has a real potential as a tool for development cooperation – and various countries and governments have shown how effective sport can be in improving foreign policy and international relations.  I believe that sport can also help the EU to reach many of its external political ambitions, as a soft power that can used in public diplomacy, and in the promotion of EU values.  The report in June last year from the High level Group I set up on sports diplomacy set out a number of recommendations. The topic was also a priority for the Slovak Presidency during the second half of 2016.  The foundations for work in the area have been laid, and we will now aim to build on them; indeed, we are committed to do so in the recently adopted Work Plan for Sport. To begin with, we will carry out a study and organise a seminar later this year.

In the longer-term, I would like to make Erasmus+ and its successor programme much more open to external cooperation in sport, as the education and youth parts of the programme already are.

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