EU Sport Forum 2019: Grassroots sport in the heart of the European debate

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

The 2019 edition of the EU Sport Forum was organised by the European Commission on 8–9 April in Bucharest, Romania. The meeting venue was the spectacular JW Marriott Bucharest Grand Hotel, offering plenty of room for the interesting debates on sport.

The event topics were of great interest for the organised sport movement, including sessions on doping, the rights of athletes, the role of federations in the promotion of European sport, major sport events, sport rights, the funding of grassroots sport, justice in sport, the challenges of less popular sports and the future engagement of Europeans in sport.

During her opening speech Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, Director for Innovation, International Cooperation and Sport at DG EAC of the European Commission, warmly welcomed the participants, announcing that the event would have a record number attendance. Member of the European Parliament Santiago Fisas reminded the participants that even though the EU cannot produce legislation on sport, there is a clear will and commitment to promote sport.

Full house during Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva's opening address
Full house during Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva's opening address

During the panel on funding, Director of the EOC EU Office Folker Hellmund gave an interesting overview on the different areas where public bodies can contribute to the promotion of grassroots sport, mentioning tax policy, policy planning, recognition in other policy areas and infrastructure, at both national and European level. In 2011, grassroots sport was mainly financed by households in the EU. Local authorities and national governments accounted for almost 40% of the funding. Two billion euros of those funds originate from lottery contributions in Europe today.

The panel on funding
The panel on funding

“We are funding sport, where others are not”, declared panellist President Hansjörg Höltkemeier, President of the European Lotteries, regarding the vital role of lottery contributions for grassroots sport.

The new Erasmus+ Programme has been proposed by the Commission to be doubled during the post-2020 financial term, ensuring more EU funding also for sport. However, often funding for e.g. infrastructure vital for grassroots sport is funded from other than sports-specific programmes. Folker Hellmund introduced a few other future funding programmes, where the European Parliament has proposed to add sport in one way or the other: ERDF, Interreg, EAFRD and ESF+. The EU member states’ support for these important amendments is needed, so that this potential can be realised.

VAT exemptions are a classical example, how governments can support sport clubs in their work. Participation and volunteering can be supported by the means of tax reductions and other subsidies. It is vital that governments help ensure the revenues of sport that will be transferred to grassroots sport. This includes also safeguarding the role of national lotteries in financing grassroots sport. Often this kind of support requires the European decision-makers’ approval, and at the moment not-for-profit sports activities have been given these kinds of advantages in many EU countries.

One of the take-home messages of the EU Sport Forum was delivered during the session on future of sport by Niels Nygaard, President of the Danish ENGSO member, NOC and Sports Confederation of Denmark (DIF). Two thirds of Danes are physically active, and the numbers are rising – a prime example of successful sports promotion in Europe. According to Nygaard, the recipe for success is that DIF has been listening to the needs of those that are physically inactive. Some of the most important means of making sport more attractive and accessible for all have been to provide more flexibility by creating more opportunities for practicing sport at different times.

Aside of the interesting debates during the sessions, the conference was a great chance for networking with e.g. ENGSO members and partners, as well as discussing the future of EU funding for sport with a variety of stakeholders, including representatives of EU member states.

ENGSO had a substantial representation at the EU Sport Forum, including President Carlos Cardoso, Executive Committee member Ilva Ciemite, Office Director Marie Denitton, ENGSO Youth Chair Michael Leyendecker, ENGSO Youth Vice-Chair Nevena Vukašinović, Youth Committee and Equality Within Sport (EWS) Committee member Rachel May, Young Delegate Laura-Maria Tiidla, Policy Director Kaisa Larjomaa, ENGSO Youth Operations Manager Dóra Faragó and Youth Officer Danijela Svircic.

ENGSO and ENGSO Youth representatives at the EU Sport Forum
ENGSO and ENGSO Youth representatives at the EU Sport Forum

We would like to congratulate the European Commission DG EAC’s Sport Unit, as well as the Romanian EU Council Presidency team, on the excellent conference and the smooth running of the event!

Here are some pictures taken at the forum.

The recordings of the sessions will soon be available here.