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Mme Viviane Reding
Member of the European Commission responsible for l'Education, Culture and Sport
The Community vision of sport
Meeting European Commission Sport federations
Brussels, 17. 04. 2000
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The adoption of the Helsinki report on sport on 1 December 1999 was a defining moment as regards where the Commission stands in relation to sport. For the first time the Commission gave the overall vision of sport which our approach had hitherto lacked. I am particularly gratified at having succeeded in getting this new approach to sport across to my colleagues in the Commission. No one can any longer claim that the Commission is interested in sport only when major economic interests are involved. In my view, it is the social and societal dimension of sport that is paramount.
However, before getting down to the contents, I would say that the Helsinki report is also illustrative of the method of work I wish to pursue.
My method: a permanent quest for dialogue and consultation
You will have noticed that since taking up my post as member of the Commission responsible for sport I have pursued my work in close conjunction with the sporting world. In preparing the Helsinki report, for instance, all the Commission's partners were involved: the national and international sporting communities, the public authorities, the media, the sports industry, the Community institutions, etc.
Since taking up my post I have been careful to pursue this dialogue which provides the Commission with knowledge of the real problems encountered by the sporting world and which enables it to take due account of the main concerns in its initiatives. In this as in any other area, my intention is to conduct a policy not only for sport but with sport and its representatives.
Today's meeting is a fresh illustration of this.
My priorities for sport
Let me now come to the core of the debate since we are here to discuss the follow-up to the Helsinki report.
At the European Council of 11-12 December 1998 in Vienna, the Commission was invited to draft a report on sport for the December 1999 Helsinki European Council. The instructions were clearly that this report should be drafted "with a view to safeguarding current sports structures and maintaining the social function of sport within the Community framework".
This report provides the "Community vision of sport". In it I sought to include a specifically sporting message and, for the first time, offer our fellow citizens and institutional partners an unambiguous and homogeneous interpretation of how sport is viewed by the Commission.
Certain questions raised in the report correspond to concerns also expressed by the sporting world. Let me mention just a few:
It boils down to this: sport and its component parts must preserve their identity. Everyone involved has a role to play, it is as simple as that. The economic forces have a role to play but must not in so doing distort or change the strictly sporting rules of the game. Similarly, I feel that the Member States, while having a central responsibility in the organisation of sport, should leave sport a degree of autonomy. The law must play its role of guardian to the full. Legislative and regulatory measures have an important role to play in safeguarding a given model of sport. Nevertheless, the sporting movement must within its own sphere retain its power of self-organisation and self-regulation. That was confirmed last week by the ECJ in the Deliège and Lehtonen judgments.
In addition, it is also important to consider the impact of such measures on the audiovisual industry and on the general public. And it is always necessary to examine whether the aims set can be achieved by less restrictive methods. This makes the analysis a complex one. Objective and transparent criteria must be established in order to "put solidarity on an organised footing". I would urge you to give this serious thought and contribute to the discussions, while appealing to your understanding for the fact that today's discussion is obviously not the appropriate forum for discussing specific cases currently being examined by my colleague, Mr Monti.
The Bosman judgement has been severely criticised in sporting circles. It is maintained inter alia that it is a disincentive for the training of young sportsmen and sportswomen. You can appreciate that it is not up to a member of the European Commission to criticise a judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Communities, a judgement which in any case does not deserve such criticism. It gave workers in the sports sector the same fundamental freedoms the Treaty gives all Community workers. It relates in particular to transfer rules and the right of sportsmen and sportswomen to move around freely. Is there anyone today who would like to turn the clock back on this point? I for one certainly would not. Moreover I see that national authorities have reached conclusions similar to those of the Court of Justice of the European Communities on the basis of the fundamental rights guaranteed by national constitutional law(2).
However, as the member of the Commission responsible for sport, I have a duty to listen to the concerns of the sporting world. That is why I am prepared to consider the most appropriate ways to encourage training. The Commission is willing to examine ways of financially offsetting the investment a club makes in the training of a young person if the person concerned leaves. A fair balance must be sought between a situation which would discourage any investment in training and the previous situation which was contrary to the fundamental rights of any worker, and even any citizen. I should nevertheless like to make it clear that a training endeavour targeting a young person and which may involve some form of compensation cannot be limited simply to sports training. A broader type of investment is needed, a genuine training contract linking sports training to school or vocational training in order to strike a balance between the advantages proposed to the young person and the rights granted to a club, as happens in other areas.
Lastly, I should like to put to you something which I feel essential in the wake of the Helsinki report. The mandate given to the Commission was, as we mentioned earlier, to measure the extent to which current sporting structures can be safeguarded and the social function of sport maintained within the Community framework. The Commission's reply is clear: the Commission does not on its own have the means particularly the legal means to ensure that the current trends observed in sport will not undermine the present structures and social function of sport. An objective of this kind can be achieved only on the basis of close co-operation and converging efforts by the sports circles, states, the Community institutions and the whole of the sporting world. I therefore expect a lot from you.
Only an active partnership between the different players involved, yourselves, the Commission and the Member States, can help to preserve a European model of sport and safeguard a code of ethics to which we are all attached.
My objectives today
These are the things I want to discuss with you today. You will have understood from what I have said that the meeting of 17 April 2000, with you, the European sports federations, is for me an important moment in the shaping and preparation of my future initiatives. The federations are the organisations the most directly concerned by the way in which sport is shaping up in Europe. Developments in sport oblige them to make an effort to adapt to the new economic, social and political factors. The process of change is already under way. However, rather than being subjected to it, the sporting world must anticipate trends, monitor them and if possible shape them. This implies coming out of a defensive shell in the face of factors which are new or felt to be new: the growing influence of financial considerations, the dominant place of television, the application to sport of the fundamental principles of Community law. Sporting federations must adapt and devote their energy, not to resisting, but to putting forward proposals.
Today's meeting must lay down a marker in this process. I therefore invite you to voice your opinions so that we can :
carry out a review of the situation
identify approaches for the future, and
define areas of co-operation between the different partners involved.
I would in particular like to have an overview of how the federations carry out their general interest missions and, in particular, how they fulfil their social role. The areas which would warrant an exchange of views include:
solidarity (external: between federations, and internal: between different levels of practice),
training of young people,
support for young people aspiring to top level sport (supervision at school, for instance, or opportunities for pursuing a different channel),
efforts to cater for the disadvantaged categories of the population,
sports ethics in relation to the all-pervasive presence of economic interests.
It is on this basis, on the basis of today's discussions, that I propose to launch a study of how to maintain the European model of sport. In fact today's meeting is not the end but rather the start of a sustained long-term effort. It is now up to you to react and give us your view of things.
(1) Mrs Buffet, French Minister for Youth and Sport, at the first Parliamentary meetings on sport in Paris (National Assembly) on 22 March 2000.
(2) Cf. the decision of the German Bundesgerichtshos of 27 September 1999 on the transfer of an ice hockey player.