The recovery of the sport sector : the way ahead
“ The European model of sport is unique because it promotes values and solidarity. This model needs to be preserved and promoted ”
Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth
On 17 November we took part in the High-level conference, organised by the Sport Unit of the European Commission, “The recovery of the sport sector after the COVID-19 crisis: the way ahead”. It was the occasion to hear the state of play of the European Union in the field of sport and physical activity and how the Commission intends to cope with the health, social and economic crises that largely affect and endanger the sport sector in Europe.
A question of solidarity ?
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel opened the floor defining sport as an integral part of the solution for the crisis: sport and physical activity (SPA) have gained importance due to the crisis itself. European citizens realised the importance of having easy access to SPA due to enforced sedentarism and the lack of movement due to lockdown. Thomas Bach (President, International Olympic Committee) continued the discussion starting the keynote speech with the first lesson learnt from the pandemic: “We need more solidarity within societies and also among societies” he stated. Solidarity, indeed, is not only the heart of the Olympic movement, but it is also the basis of the European model of sport. The latter can play an efficient role in Europe if it can strengthen the values of solidarity and peace and if supported by public authorities. Today, a strong European model of sport is crucial to give a positive and efficient push to the agenda for recovery.
The central part of the conference was dedicated to two panel discussions moderated by Brian Maguire on the “Key challenges and lessons learnt from the crisis for grassroots sport organisations” and “The impact of the crisis on growth and job in the sport sector and possible ways to recover”.
The first panel focused on the grassroots level with challenges and difficulties the sector is facing during the crisis. As Marc Tarabella (MEP, co-chair Sports Group 2019-2024) underlined, grassroots sport was in difficulty before the crisis and this situation exacerbates endemic problems. Furthermore, speakers agreed on the importance of a holistic approach to tackle the crisis: namely, an increase of funding at the European level and of dialogue with different stakeholders ready to work together for the future of grassroots sport across Europe.
The second debate focused on the economic aspects of the sport sector such as economic growth and jobs. Tiago Brandao Rodrigues (Minister of Education, Portugal) elaborated a very ambitious role for sport during the Portuguese Presidency of the Council (starting in January 2021). He called for a comprehensive strategy that englobes sport, education, health, and economy, that would address the recovery of the crisis in the sport sector from different angles.
What of the future?
Commissioner Gabriel took the floor in the final part of the conference emphasizing the work the European Commission has done so far. The main findings of the Mapping study on measuring the economic impact of COVID-19 on the sport sector in the EU were presented for the very time- study which has since been published :
- Loss of revenues is a major issue when it comes to sport, due to the considerable reduction of income from memberships, the cancellation of events, and tickets.
- Cashflow difficulties are another important issue: sport clubs are struggling to pay fixed costs, which will end up in staff cuts and dismissals. Freelancers are the most affected by the crisis, but athletes have also touched by reduced sponsorship and prize money from competitions.
- The Sporting services sector is expected to shrink by 5th to quarter in almost all the Member States across Europe. Finally, the sport-related GDP is expected to decline by 10% in 2020.
To cope with this unprecedented situation some recommendations were put forward by Commissioner Gabriel:
- Continue to make funding available through horizontal measures that will help stakeholders and Member States to be proactive in redistributing these funds to sport sector
- Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative (CRII): give more visibility to good practices and pushing for more flexibility.
- Improvement of the SURE instrument: 100 billion EUR to protect jobs and workers. The essential need for implementation and recognition for the sport sector.
- Erasmus+: Parliament and Council agreed on an extra 2.2 billion EUR for the next programme. In 2020, 1200 applications showed an increase of 50% compared to last year and therefore, a clear success of the programme.
Despite the situation, Commissioner Gabriel concluded by highlighting some upcoming actions in the framework of European sport policy:
- The Commissioner is committed to supporting the sport sector through Erasmus+. The new Erasmus+ programme will be opened to international cooperation (notably with Western Balkans), will include new “Mobility Actions for sport”, and will help to preserve the integrity of sport across Europe
- Soon the Council will adopt the future Work Plan for Sport, fully in line with the Commissioner’s priorities, notably innovation, environment, gender equality, and diplomacy.
- 2 expert groups will be set up on Green Sport, and on the Impact of COVID-19 on sport, together with a High-level group of experts in the field of Gender Equality.
- Commissioner Gabriel is also committed to expanding the Tartu Call for Healthy Lifestyle: the follow-up will be the Healthy Lifestyle for All and it will broaden the scope by looking at sustainability and innovation in the field of sport.
- Finally, soon will be published a study on “intergenerational sport”, and a new study on sport and doping was recently launched.
Sport and Citizenship took part in the conference and is glad to see the commitment the Commission is putting in place to give sport the recognition it deserves. We are delighted to see gender equality and sport diplomacy (2 of our main priorities) will be at the core of the next Work Plan for Sport, and therefore at the center of the European sport policy. Nonetheless, we also remarked that funding of sport within the so-called NextGenerationEU package (European recovery instruments) was not mentioned throughout the conference. Hence, we reiterate our will and commitment to the cause of recognition of sport as a legitimate domain in need of funding, especially during these hard times.