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Mrs Viviane Reding

Member of the European Commission responsible for Education and Culture

Protection of young sportsmen and doping problems : a European answer is required

Opening ceremony of the ninth European Sports Forum

Lille, 26 October 2000

Madam Minister,

Mr Mayor,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is my first experience of the European Sports Forum, and it is an important one for me. Since 1991, the Forum has given us an ideal opportunity to discuss matters, exchange ideas and consolidate the links between the Community and the world of sport. And so that there is no room for doubt, let me stress once again that dialogue is the basis for all my work on sport.

It is clear that a very great deal of work has been done since the last Forum in Salzburg. That does not mean to say that the problems have disappeared quite the contrary. Entirely new problems and very important questions have been put to the Commission. The point is, though, that this avalanche of work, far from demotivating us, has in fact prompted us to seek the most appropriate ways of reconciling the needs of sport and compliance with Community law.

Mr Mayor,

I am particularly pleased that my first Forum is being held in Lille. This is a part of France which has been badly affected by the economic crisis, but which quickly came to realise that sport over and above the purely economic aspect is an excellent means of advancing social integration and giving people a taste for pushing themselves and showing that they can surpass themselves. This sporting spirit that you have cultivated has undoubtedly helped to create new perspectives and accelerate the modernisation of your city and the whole region. I know that you are very keen on one day hosting one of the world's great sporting events. Given your great commitment to sport, I am sure that this opportunity will come along sooner rather than later.

Madam Minister, Madam Chairman,

I am also very pleased that my first Forum is taking place under the French Presidency which, right from the outset, has shown a particular commitment to sport-related issues. The Commission greatly appreciates the impetus you have given to work in this sector. France has set itself ambitious aims for sport, and I hope your efforts will bear fruit.

For our part, we hope that the Forum will give us the chance to listen to all sides and see what ideas everyone has. The conclusions will be discussed at the next ministerial meeting in Paris and, Madam Chairman, will give you the chance to consider in more detail what should be in the proposals for the Nice European Council. That will be the Presidency's and the Commission's response to the invitation set out in the declaration on sport appended to the Amsterdam Treaty.

Allow me to thank you, Madam Chairman, in a personal capacity for your unswerving commitment to ensuring that sport is clean, true to its own values, but capable of developing and accommodating a changing economic and social situation.

Ladies and gentlemen from the world of sport,

It is up to you to do the real work. The success of the Forum will depend on the quality of your discussions and ideas.

This will be a different sort of Forum. To enable you to take a more active part in its work, we have decided on a system of working parties, the idea being to structure our discussions more effectively and to make it easier to draw conclusions. This is the Commission's response to the call for dialogue as set out in the Amsterdam declaration.

I am delighted to welcome the three people who will be chairing the working parties and thank them for agreeing to taking part: Mrs Zabell, who is a Member of the European Parliament, who is Parliament's rapporteur on the problem of doping in sport, and who is the winner of two Olympic gold medals. Then we have Mr Marneffe, who takes a special interest in all questions to do with young people and I would add that I also intend to report back to the Council of Ministers for Youth on 9 November and present our conclusions there. Finally, I welcome Mr Johansson, who is representing the Swedish government, and whose country will be taking over the EU Presidency from next January. It will be up to Sweden, then, to develop some of the ideas we shall be discussing here.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Why these three subjects the uniqueness of sport, the campaign against doping, and the need to protect young sportsmen and women?

I do not think there is any need for me to explain the importance of defining what makes sport so unique. If we cannot do that, there is little chance of our making progress. Without wishing to anticipate your work, I would say that the specific nature of sport lies in the nature of sporting competition, on the one hand, and on its multifunctional aspect, on the other. Alongside the steadily growing economic dimension, sport continues to fulfil a social function. As a result, it needs to preserve the internal cohesion of competitions, maintain solidarity between the different levels of sporting activity, and ensure that it fulfils its social tasks. That is why, as the Court of Justice has recognised, it needs a certain degree of autonomy in setting its own rules and deciding on its own organisational structures. This is something that the public authorities need to bear in mind.

I do not believe in, and I will not support, a two-speed structure for sport one level which is wealthy and self-sufficient, and another which is impoverished and dependent on public support. But neither do I believe in uniform solutions for all federal organisations.

When you share a home, you still need a room of your own and the space to grow and be yourself. What we need, then, are sports structures which are capable of imagination and of growing and changing. And that in turn means having a stable legal environment, both nationally and at European level. It also requires a more generous spirit on the part of officials, who have to be open to new management cultures.

On the doping front, we have won a first battle at the Sydney Olympics. This is something I am pleased about. The image of a clean Games played a part in the overall success of the event and shows how important it is for the world of sport and the authorities to set about tackling this scourge together. Setting up the World Anti-Doping Agency is a concrete expression of our resolve. The important thing now is to take our work a stage further, ensuring that a European city is selected as the definitive home of the Agency, and giving the Agency the funding it needs to operate independently.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I believe that we should set ourselves ambitious targets in terms of combating the doping problem. What I would propose to you is to encourage European sport to achieve zero doping by the Athens Olympics in 2004, the year in which the Games go back to their roots. To enable us to achieve this target, and in parallel with enforcement-type measures, I believe we must improve coordination in the field of research, educate and train all our citizens, and focus more clearly on the real causes why athletes and their entourages use illicit substances.

Talking of doping in sport brings me on to the third subject of the Forum's work how to protect young top-level sportsmen and women. I would like first of all to state quite unequivocally that we need to encourage young people to go in for sport. We can never do enough in that respect. But on the question of really top-level competition with a starting age of 11 and a half in general, and eight and a half for swimmers the important thing is that sports organisations and public authorities should see to it that the very best conditions apply. What this means is that there must be guarantees concerning the health and protection of young people, and proper procedures for easing them back into working life at the end of their sporting careers. We also have to keep an eye on sporting conditions and working conditions. I firmly believe that the problem is not such that we need to go beyond recommendations or encouraging words, but at the same time we have to keep a watch on a situation which may well worsen.

I should like to draw your attention to the particular problem of trafficking I believe there is no other word for it in young people from Africa and Latin America. This is an issue which French television has reminded us of again recently. It is a problem which concerns all of us. I deplore the attitude of certain officials who merely refer the problem back to the public authorities. It is all very well to insist on one's rights, but we have to honour our commitments too. The European Union cannot afford to sit back and watch, and it is my intention to address this problem and look for joint solutions in the near future with my Commission colleagues responsible for external policy and justice and home affairs.

Finally, we have organised, for tomorrow morning, a workshop on television rights sales and the impact of the Internet. I think these are burning issues which lie at the heart of many of our current questions. Getting sport in Europe to develop in the way we want will depend on striking the right balance between the autonomy of sport and the influence of television.

Two experts representing the public and the private views of the media will be giving us their views on this emotive issue a key issue if we are to properly understand the way sport is changing and becoming rapidly commercialised, and if we are to be aware of the problems we face.

Sports organisations can also take an active part in using the new technologies. Since one of my jobs in the European Commission is education policy, I attach particular importance to the way the new technologies are spread and the way they are introduced into schools albeit always against a much broader backdrop, bearing in mind the whole of the social fabric. A Commission expert will be telling you how sports organisations can help to boost people's awareness of the new technologies in Europe. After all, you represent a third of the population of Europe, and more than 600 000 sports clubs. Just imagine your potential as a network for acquiring and using these new instruments of communication!

Well, I have set out my stall of desiderata, and sketched out a few possible approaches. You have a heavy schedule, and you will have to stick to it. The time has come, then, for you to take over the baton and put some flesh on the broad lines I have just been indicating. The Presidency and the Commission await your suggestions with great interest. It just remains for me, ladies and gentlemen, to declare the ninth European Sports Forum open.

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