Who can represent sport? Debate and farewells at the Sport Unit Breakfast

On 16 December 2020, our Policy Director Kaisa Larjomaa had the pleasure to participate as a panellist in the Sport Unit Breakfast on the very interesting topic "Who can speak on behalf of sport at the EU level?", organised by the Sport Unit of the European Commission.

Kaisa Larjomaa had the opportunity to introduce the strategy and policy priorities of ENGSO, our member structure, as well as the democratic process where ENGSO members, National Sports Confederations and National Olympic Committees (NOCs), decide on our priorities. ENGSO's role as the leading voice for voluntary-based grassroots sport means that we work together with our members to create the best possible environment for sport clubs. Aside of the expertise and direct contacts of our members, sport clubs are also directly involved in ENGSO through our events and projects. While many Europeans practice physical activity independently in a non-formal setting, ENGSO's goal is to encourage as many Europeans as possible to practice physical activity and sport in a club setting, to gain the social and societal benefits of sport.

She also offered her thoughts regarding the representativeness of stakeholders, proposing that EU policy makers should assess the legitimacy, representativeness and contribution of the stakeholders they give a forum to. The landscape has changed considerably in the past 10 years, and it's important to evaluate whether stakeholders are ethically and legally aligned with the EU and its objectives.

ENGSO Policy Director Kaisa Larjomaa speaking at the event
ENGSO Policy Director Kaisa Larjomaa speaking at the event

EOC EU Office Director Folker Hellmund also offered important insights in the panel, which we fully agree with. The representatives from the organised sports movement should be the go-to stakeholders whenever topics that concern sport are being discussed, and when solutions cannot be found without the sport movement. The movement is understood as the pyramid consisting of voluntary-based sport clubs, sports federations at different levels, and their umbrella organisations such as the NOCs and the International Olympic Committee.

Moderator Alexandre Husting, Sport Attaché representing Luxembourg, also gave the panellists the chance to reflect on the topics of the newly adopted EU Work Plan for Sport 2021–2024. Most topics are of relevance for organised sport, and ENGSO is open to cooperate in implementing the programme. Kaisa Larjomaa assessed that ENGSO, ENGSO Youth and the ENGSO Equality Within Sport (EWS) Committee can make a contribution for e.g. the topics of innovation, equality, youth, inclusion, green sport, safety, recovery from COVID-19 and the economic value of voluntary-based grassroots sport.

In a wider discussion, Heidi Sulander, Senior Adviser from the Finnish ministry responsible for sport, brought up their national process in which the sports movement is heard and their views taken into account in the Finnish government positions. Finland is a great example of this kind of dialogue, and the ENGSO and EOC EU Office representatives encouraged other EU member states to adopt similar practices.

Finally, the Commission staff and other colleagues working in and around sport had prepared a surprise video for Yves Le Lostecque, Head of the Sport Unit, who will be moving on to new tasks in 2021. Colleagues praised the important contribution that Mr Le Lostecque had made in the development of the European dimension of sport and EU sports policy, and heartily thanked him for his expertise and friendship through the years. Kaisa Larjomaa also thanked him for having been an invaluable counterpart for ENGSO in the past 7 years, always ready to listen to the needs of the civil society of sport. We thank Yves Le Lostecque for the cooperation and wish him the best for the future tasks at the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Cooperation with sport will continue!

Kaisa Larjomaa also bid farewell to the EU sports bubble colleagues and announced that her successor, Laurent Briel will ensure a continued presence and cooperation in 2021. Larjomaa will herself continue to play a part in developing EU policy in the field of equality within sport, as Project Manager of the Erasmus+ funded project, EQUIP, (Equip for Equality in Practice).