The diplomatic power of civil society

In autumn 2015 Commissioner Navracsics set up two High level groups, one on sport diplomacy and the second one on grassroots sport. The work of these two High level groups is now finalised: the two groups have presented their recommendations to the Commissioner on 29 June.

The 15 members of the group, which included active and former athletes, academics, representatives of think thanks and media, personalities having exercised high-level responsibilities in the field of sport, representatives of major sport organisations, etc., have worked hard in order to assess the value of sport in EU public diplomacy.

The chairmanship of Mr Pál Schmitt supported by two rapporteurs Valérie Fourneyron and Thierry Zintz has led the work. This report, including 15 recommendations, identifies how sport can play a more significant role in helping the EU reach its external policy goals as well as how sport could be a tool to promote European values.


The 15 recommendations are:


1. Ensure that sport, and the contribution it can make to achieving the EU’s external relations ambitions, is fully taken into account in the agreements with third countries, including within the framework of Accession, Association, Co-operation and European Neighbourhood agreements. Where sport is mentioned in existing texts, steps should be taken to implement the sports related provisions through follow-up actions and agreements, including the adoption of new instruments such as bilateral memoranda of understanding between the EU and third countries specifically relating to sport.

2. Mainstream sport in the EU External Relations funding programmes (as listed in supporting means): review the eligibility criteria of EU funding programmes to ensure that the potential of sport, in the context of projects partnering EU applicants with third countries, is fully harnessed. In particular, consider the extension of Erasmus+ programme to non-EU Member States covered by the Accession, Association, Co-operation and European Neighbourhood agreements.

3. Make use of the considerable sporting expertise in Europe to provide technical and policy support to third country public authorities and sports organisations implementing sports-based development and social projects with a view to developing sports systems in these countries and as a means of sharing best practice in line with the EU values.

4. Organise a high level sports diplomacy conference and maintain on-going good relations with relevant sports bodies, stakeholders and the Council of Europe through the EU structured dialogue on sport.

5. Promote legal/circular migration through sport. Temporary and circular migration programmes and mobility partnerships should be enhanced to facilitate the entry and (short-term) residence of sportsmen / women.

6. Bestow awards to projects and initiatives from civil society that foster development and cooperation through sports and leverage the EU’s objectives of achieving democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and social cohesion (education, health, inclusion, gender equality…).

7. Develop communication tools, such as websites and social media, to present good practice examples, such as those included in the document “Examples of EU funded sport-based development projects”. Include a specific session on sport and development in the annual EU Development Days.




8. Support projects and research relating to the staging of major sport events within the framework of existing EU funding programmes, including support for pre-event, side event and legacy activities promoting EU fundamental values.

9. Take forward the recommendations of the various expert groups established under the 2nd EU Work Plan for Sport as well as Conclusions adopted by the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council related to the major sport events.

10. Recognise the potential of sport, and specifically the staging of major sport events, as an important aspect of EU economic diplomacy so that sport can contribute to the EU’s economic objectives of growth, employment and competitiveness.

11. Create a network of sport ambassadors including current as well as former athletes and coaches, to promote EU values through sport.

12. Develop the European dimension in sport by mainstreaming sport into relevant EU policies and funding programmes. Feature the word “Sport” in the title of the DG Education and Culture in order to heighten the status of sport. Give sport diplomacy a priority status in the next EU Work Plan for Sport (from 2017). Refer to the potential of sports diplomacy in the EU Foreign Affairs strategy and the EU Human Rights Action Plan when it is next reviewed. In this regard, closer intra and inter institutional co-operation within the EU should be encouraged to ensure a mainstreamed approach to EU sports diplomacy.

13. Establish a group of experts on Sport Diplomacy as a platform for the generation of ideas and the exchange of best practice.

14. Include sport into the portfolio of Delegation officers who are responsible for cultural relations and request them to take sport into account when assessing the social, economic and political situation in the given country.

15. Raise awareness in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of EU Member States on the potential of sport as a soft power / public diplomacy tool.


The final report of the High Level Group on Sport Diplomacy is available on the European Commission Sport’s Unit website.


Discover the journal




Sport et citoyenneté