PtG Article 08.07.2007

EU's White Paper on sport says more research is needed before action

The immediate beneficiaries of the EU Commission’s proposed action plan on sport will be academic institutions in member states. Named after Pierre de Coubertin, the action plan does not have many suggestions for actions but instead proposes research projects on a wide range of issues in European sport.

The lack of action has already drawn criticism from the European sports federations for football, handball, volleyball and basketball as well as the International Ice Hockey Federation. In a joint statement, the federations say that their principal reaction to reading a draft of the White Paper and the action plan was deep disappointment:

“We have discovered a very lengthy document that simply describes the current situation but unfortunately adopts a very timid and indecisive attitude towards the key issues,” the statement reads.

However, according to a copy of the White Paper obtained by Play the Game, the main purpose of producing the document is to give strategic orientation on the role of sport in Europe, to encourage debate on specific problems, to enhance the visibility of sport in EU policy-making and to raise awareness of the needs and specificities of the sector. All with the aim of identifying the appropriate level of further action at EU level.

EU wants to understand economic role of sport

The document presented to EU Commissioners therefore asks for support for a number of surveys and studies.

  • First of all, the EU Commission wants to understand more about the economic role of the sports sector in society and therefore wants to launch a study to assess its direct and indirect contributions to the generation of jobs and economic growth.
  • The EU Commission also wants to study how grassroots sports and sports for all can be financed from public and private sources - particularly in view of the fact that EU law threatens the monopoly that many states have had on licensed gambling and where taxes on gambling have been spent on supporting sports for all.
  • Volunteers are integral to the way European sport is organised at amateur levels. But the base of volunteers is declining for a variety of reasons and it could have severe consequences for the organisation as well as the economy of the sports sector. The EU Commission therefore proposes a European study on volunteering in sport to better understand the specific demands and needs of the voluntary sport sector in national and European policy making. 

Studies planned of players’ agents and discrimination

The White Paper also proposes to study a number of the more thorny issues between sports federations and the EU.

  • Over time, many stakeholders have called on EU to regulate the sometimes dubious activities of players’ agents through legislation.  But before doing that, the White Paper suggests that the EU Commission should carry out an impact assessment to provide a clear overview of the activities of players’ agents in Europe. The Commission also wants an evaluation of whether action at EU level is necessary and what forms it might take.
  • Discrimination on grounds of nationality is prohibited in the Treaties, which establish the right for any citizen of the Union to move and reside freely in the territory of member states. However, in recent years the Commission has received an increasing number of complaints from EU residents who say they have encountered  restrictions on access to sporting activities and/or sporting competitions by sport amateurs in certain member states. Therefore the White Paper suggests that it is necessary to study the whole issue of access to individual sports competitions for non-nationals. 

Adoption of White Paper may be delayed

As Play the Game reported in May ('Platini wants to keep lawyers out of football'), sports federations headed up by UEFA had hoped that the White Paper would settle the status of sport vis-a-vis EU law once and for all and recognise the specificity of sport in a legally binding way.

The copy of White Paper obtained by Play the Game does not hold any guarantees like that but according to the news agency Reuters, the European Commission will delay adopting the White Paper for at least a week and maybe longer in order to address some of the concerns raised by sports federations.

The White Paper was due to be adopted on 4 July, but Reuters quote unnamed Commission sources for saying that a number of the 27 EU Commissioners wanted more time to evaluate the White Paper.

“If there is nothing to be gained from rushing into a decision, then they will have no problem in delaying it until the autumn,” one of these sources said.

However, a level of agreement seems to have been reached amongst Commissioners, and the White Paper, with possible amendments, is now scheduled for adoption on 11 July 2007.