Sport: the Marathon to Integration
Dr Lee Rotherham
first foray into running Sports Policy happened back in 1988.
It was after the Seoul Olympics; the athletes were returning home to
national acclaim; and there, on the second page of a UK newspaper was the
advert placed by the European Commission. Imagine, it said, the tally in
Gold, Silver and Bronze, if the European teams were counted as one.
The total was impressive, but the question was arrogant, particularly given
the known attitudes of the British premier of the time.
Sport really was not on the agenda for the EU (as it would become) for some
years. Of course, it is a highly symbolic prize for the integrationists to
win. Imagine a "Ryder Cup" team across the board in so many sporting
disciplines; to add to the flag and the anthem, a shared set of heroes.
Clearly, the prospect is a touchy area (witness Hong Kong's attempts to
maintain its own identity in these areas).
It had been part of the Council of Europe's agenda, however, since 1950.
The European Cultural Convention identified Sport alongside Education, Culture
and Youth, as areas for international, ie intergovernmental, cooperation. So
long as the pretence for the EU was that of trade and the 'four freedoms',
official interest in the domain was only incidental at Brussels. On rare
occasions, the Single Market may find an issue. This most notably happened
over the number of international players that could be permitted in any
football team. The ruling was subsequently used by Europropagandists as an
example of "Europe working", of the Single Market supposedly making the man in
the street's life better by improving the quality of national sport, and of
Brussels doing something tangible and understandable. This profile case may
thus have been the undoing of sport's intergovernmental status. After all,
even the Tour de France rarely crossed any borders.
The Treaty of Amsterdam started the unravelling. Amongst the final
Declarations ran the following:
"The Conference emphasises the social significance of
sport, in particular its role in forging identity and bringing people
together. The Conference therefore calls on the bodies of the European Union
to listen to sports associations when important questions affecting sport are
at issue. In this connection, special consideration should be given to the
particular characteristics of amateur sport."
While not a fully incorporated article, it provided a possible budget line
and an authorisation for the Commission to reflect, and the more
integrationist within the Council to plan.
The supporters of this development are surprising. As the negotiations
were under way in 1996, the fifteen heads of the national Olympic Committees
of the member states, supported by the IOC and its head (Samaranch), endorsed
a proposal (of unknown origins) to add Sport as a 'Complementary Competence'.
This would allow for coordinating, complementary or supporting action short of
harmonisation - and allowing legislation and legal funding of activities in
That objective would have to wait. But the ratchet had begun to click.
With the Treaty of Nice came a fuller Declaration, which while it again lay
outside the treaty body proper, gave more substance to the activities and
objectives of the EU. Acknowledging there had been no direct (N.B) competence
in the field, it authorised the Community to "take account of the social,
educational and cultural functions inherent in sport and making it special, in
order that the code of ethics and the solidarity essential to the preservation
of its social role may be respected and nurtured." In short, a raft of
issues relating to sport would be of interest to Brussels: "social values";
"educational values"; "cultural values"; "integration"; "involvement in social
life"; "tolerance"; "acceptance of differences"; "playing by the rules";
access regardless of gender, age and capability; volunteers in sports; sports
federations; youth training; health protection; anti-doping measures; "acts of
violence"; racism and xenophobia; vocational training by sportsmen for other
jobs; minors in sport; management of clubs; TV broadcasting rights; and
transfers. A declaration of platitudes thus provides the Commission with the
authorisation to become interested in a broad area of fields, with monies to
start to infiltrate and buy.
The authorisation for activity still remained in the Treaty Recitals,
however, and not properly in the main body of the text. Still, this enabled a
Sports Unit (within DG Education and Culture, as it now is) to fund activities
and demonstrate an EU presence, for instance an anti-smoking campaign for
sportsmen; Football Against Racism in Europe; the XXXVI Chess Olympiad in
Calvia in 2004 (described as "The symbol of the Olympic spirit in European
territory"); the European Paralympic Committee; and a music show in Athens.
In short, it usurped the Council of Europe. The Olympic Flame in January 2004
even made a special trip to see the Commissioner in charge of Sports when the
runners passed through Brussels.
The story, sadly, does not stop here. The integrationists on the
Praesidium of the Giscard Convention succeeded in putting Sport into the
Constitutional draft as a Complementary Competence (despite a marked absence
of suggestions from the delegates from the floor to do so). Article 15
identified Sport as an area for "supporting action", along with industry,
education/vocational training/youth, culture, and protection against
disasters. Motions to remove it (not all from Eurosceptic delegates) were
ignored. Consequently, it went before the IGC for debate late in 2003. Once
again, sports bureaucrats backed the move: FIFA, UEFA and the IOC seem to have
endorsed the plans (the Presidents of FIFA and UEFA even issued a joint
statement of support; other associations incurred the Commission's wrath by
being more questioning). By October, twelve of the fifteen EU members were
said to endorse the change. Reading between the lines, Britain wasn't
prepared to go to the wall to veto it, deeming it a matter of minor
So this is where we are today. The Commission feels itself empowered to
fund Sports projects and tinker in sports legislation where other EU
legislation (such as the Single Market) overlaps. It is waiting for the final
ratification of the EU Constitution, which would incorporate Sport as an area
for legal activism.
Where that will lead us is anyone's guess. But cgonsider the hysteria last
year in a speech by the Commissioner then responsible for Sport, Viviane
Reding. ("2004 - A New Lease of Life for European Sport?" Speech
03/411) The EU Constitution made 2004 seem set to be the "starting point
for a Community policy of sport". The Community would promote and 'restore'
sporting values, and would pursue the educational and social potential of the
domain. Reference followed to the need to increase stadium attendance levels;
to the failures of national funding of national sports federations; of the
desirability of integrating sports somehow into the Social Model (an
obligatory paid hour down the gym?); and even possible legislation for a
specific Eurocrime of doping in sport - logically, this would bring in
Rarely is anyone in Brussels so completely hatstand. The language was
incredible, with hints of ubermenschen in vests, of "Education through Sport"
and of evil doping parents who deserved the ultimate sanction. With
legislative rights in the pipeline, the Commissioner's mind tripped the light
fantastic. Clearly with Sport, if the Constitution is ratified, all bets are
off as to what the tabloids will be able to print.