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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

The EU's role in promoting sport for all

Sportvision 2012 Conference

Copenhagen, 19 March 2012

Dear Minister Elbaek,

Members of the European Parliament,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here with you for this Sportvision 2012 conference that the International Sport and Culture Association has organised on behalf of the Danish EU Presidency. I would like to thank all involved in this excellent initiative.

I am also very happy to share this podium with Mr Fisas, a great friend of sport within the European Parliament, who has often played an important role in shaping EU policy towards sport. Indeed I am heartened by the very strong presence here from among what we might call "the sports community" in the European Parliament.

Conferences like today's are a much-welcomed opportunity to reflect and share our views on the sport policy issues of the day.

And I have to say that the three themes that will be discussed in the parallel workshops – (Fitness Doping, Financing & Health, and Volunteering) - represent some of the biggest challenges sport is facing in our times.

As I was travelling to this event, I asked myself the question "could we live in a world without sports?" The answer for me was an immediate "no, we couldn't, and we wouldn't want to".

The benefits of sport are very clear to me. When it is practised at élite level, sport is wonderful entertainment, spectacle and drama; but it is also so much more.

It is a source of inspiration because it presents us with excellence in human activity, and with the sacrifices needed to attain it. It teaches us to challenge our own limits: we are proud to share in the achievements of the athletes we admire, those who represent us.

At least that's how we all felt in Cyprus, in the wake of the recent performance of Apoel in the Champions' League…Even those who normally do not pay too much attention to football!

But the greatest benefit for spectators of sport is probably that we feel inspired to practise it ourselves, to create and engage in our own sporting theatre of dreams.

And at grassroots level, at amateur level, there are immeasurable benefits, in terms of both public health and social cohesion. At all ages, practising sport is more than mere entertainment: for many, many people it is a lifeline.

Even a moderate amount of daily physical activity will have an immediate and strong impact on people's health and well-being. Young people learn, from practising sport, vital skills such as teamwork, discipline, determination and perseverance. And I will not fail to mention the contribution of sport to the struggle for equal rights for women.

Sport brings us joy. Sport can unite us. Sport can teach us. And it also contributes to economic growth and the creation of jobs.

This is why we need to ensure that everyone can join in and benefit from sport.

This is why sports policy at EU level is particularly focused on grassroots sport. The European Commission is strongly committed to a policy of "sport for all", and I expressed this very clearly in the strategy we presented last year.

Developing the European dimension in sport is still in its early years, and the current economic challenges we are facing does not make the task any easier.

And yet, these difficulties notwithstanding, we have presented a proposal for a new EU programme - ‘Erasmus for All’ - covering education, training, youth, and, for the first time, sport. It is a programme meant to achieve systemic impact in areas that are crucial for Europe's future.

Sport is part of this vision and features as a specific Chapter, with a strong emphasis on the issue of how to strengthen grassroots sport.

The EU Member States have begun discussing the Commission's proposal, and their initial reactions, I am pleased to say, are positive. Still, it is important, given in particular the difficult climate in which decisions about the future EU budget are being made, that stakeholders make their voices heard in support of this initiative. I am confident I will be able to count on your support.

Discussions will also soon start in the European Parliament – as the MEPs present here today will confirm, the Parliament has always been a strong supporter of EU activities promoting grassroots sport. So, colleagues from the Parliament, I look forward to your input and your ideas.

Of course, the new seven-year programme will not start until 2014. In the meantime, the Preparatory Actions in the field of sport, in which many organisations present today have participated, will continue.

They will address issues where EU intervention has a clear value added, like match fixing, physical activity promoting active ageing, awareness-raising about effective ways to promote sport at municipal level and trans-frontier grassroots sport competitions in neighbouring regions and Member States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very appreciative of the emphasis the Danish Presidency has given to Fitness and Doping, including the work towards Council Conclusions on combating doping in recreational sport. We should not underestimate the importance of this work, because until now – in most Member States– this worrying trend has not been addressed by the anti-doping system.

The Commission has co-financed three doping prevention projects aimed at amateurs. One in particular, the "Strategy against Steroids" project, is holding its final conference here. So I hope many of you will visit it, because Denmark is exceptional in having done doping prevention work in fitness centres for two decades - it has many good practices it can share with the rest of us.

Linked to our fight against doping is the issue of Financing & Health, and in particular, the promotion of Health-Enhancing Physical Activity.

Promoting Health-Enhancing Physical Activity makes strong sense for people's health, for the economy, and for society at large - as I trust Professor Szymanski and Dr. Helmenstein will illustrate the issue fully for us today.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that in Europe obesity is on the rise, and more can and should be done at EU and national level to better promote a policy of Health-Enhancing Physical Activity across sectors.

We take this challenge very seriously and are stepping up our efforts in this area. The Commission is working with European sports ministers to further promote the implementation of the EU Physical Activity Guidelines, which reiterate the guidance of the World Health Organisation on the recommended minimum level of physical activity.

I am certain that discussions at the conference today and tomorrow will generate further ideas on implementing the guidelines at national level. My colleagues from the Commission are here to listen, and they will ensure that your ideas feed into the work towards an EU policy initiative. It will be particularly interesting to see what role the sport movement can play in contributing to this process.

Let me just remind you that we have already funded nine transnational projects in this area. We will do so again also in the Preparatory Action in 2012 - with a focus on ageing - and in the Erasmus for All programme as of 2014.

Before I conclude, I would like to say a few words about volunteering in sports. This is an area where efforts at grass-roots level have a huge potential. Volunteers lift themselves up with their work, and at the same time lift their communities. Last year – the European Year of Volunteering - the Commission supported four sports volunteering projects, all of them focused on capacity building so that there can be a multiplying effect. Sports volunteering in Europe varies widely from one Member State to another, so it is useful at EU level to ensure the exchange of good practice across borders.

In conclusion, Ladies and Gentlemen, I believe we have made good progress in strengthening our cooperation on sport at EU level and in developing a useful and supportive European dimension in sport.

The European Union, through its policies and financial instruments, remains committed to supporting sport, and, in particular, sport for all.

I look forward to your fruitful discussions and wish you a successful conference.

Thank you.

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