UEFA and the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) have joined forces to promote consolidated future European Union funding in sport, and have pledged to work together for a strong cohesion policy.
These objectives are laid down in a declaration signed by UEFA first vice-president Karl-Erik Nilsson and CoR president Karl-Heinz Lambertz at a joint conference in Brussels on Wednesday.
The event gathered all UEFA member associations and members of the UEFA HatTrick Committee together with senior officials from EU institutions, including the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics.
The aim of the conference was to emphasise the significance of EU funding for sport within the context of the EU cohesion policy which must continue to be a pillar of the EU’s future.
Earlier this year, UEFA signed the #Cohesion Alliance declaration, an initiative launched by the CoR and the major associations of regions and cities, which aims to achieve economic, social and territorial cohesion throughout the continent.
The European Committee of the Regions is an advisory body comprising locally and regionally elected representatives from, among others, regions, counties, provinces, municipalities and cities. The CoR backs and advocates measures to strengthen European Union cohesion policies across the 28 EU member states.
In the joint declaration signed by Mr Nilsson and Mr Lambertz, UEFA and the CoR agree on the need to promote better accessibility to, and synergies with EU funding for investments in sport, and to strengthen co-operation for a strong cohesion policy that promotes economic, social and territorial cohesion across the EU after 2020.
The declaration emphasises that sport produces considerable benefits, including the regeneration of urban areas, the social integration of disadvantaged groups, the development of tourism and the creation of job opportunities.
In addition, the declaration states that a lack of sport-based policies and a lack of infrastructure for grassroots sport are two of the main obstacles standing in the way of free and equal access to sports activities for all citizens, including people with disabilities.
Ensuring universal access to sports activities, the declaration says, is a crucial means of bringing about economic and social development, and increasing the overall number of people involved in sporting activites – thereby facilitating the promotion of European common values as well as education, training and skills through sport.
The declaration also calls for the recognition of sport’s contribution in bolstering economic development and fostering the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups.
“We are all aware that football is not just a recreational activity, but is an engine of economic growth and social inclusion,” said Karl-Erik Nilsson. “In addition to improving the health of European citizens, it has an educational dimension, and plays a social and cultural role.
“Football and sport can also facilitate the path towards greater European integration. And today more than ever, we need to use the unique potential that sport has, to bring people together.”
“UEFA strongly believes in the importance of sport,” Mr Nilsson added, “and every year gives an incredible contribution to football and sport, through UEFA’s HatTrick assistance programme. Thanks to this programme, significant infrastructure and sporting activities are supported in Europe. But UEFA’s efforts should be supported by dedicated European funding sources, especially for the grassroots level.”
“Investing in football and sport means investing in the future of Europe. Sports organisations, national authorities and EU institutions should find together the way to make use of all existing funding opportunities, in the interest of sport and, more broadly, of the European Union as a whole.”
“We share the same goal as UEFA,” said Karl-Heinz Lambertz. “Strengthening cohesion and solidarity in Europe. Investing in sports is a return on investment contributing to health, social inclusion, tourism and economic development.”
“This is why it is critical the EU continues to provide sufficient cohesion policy funds to allow regions and cities to provide decent sports infrastructure across borders. As #CohesionAlliance supporters, we know first-hand that EU structural funds can make a real difference, offering a healthier, better quality of life for our communities.”
“Sport has a unique potential to help us tackle the big challenges facing our societies and to boost the development of cities and regions,” said Tibor Navracsics.
“To make the most of this potential, we have to find ways of embedding sport in our actions across policy areas. In particular, we need to incorporate it more effectively into local and regional strategies, building on regions’ and cities’ individual strengths and ambitions.”
European Parliament representative Tiziana Beghin, vice-president of the Sports Intergroup, added support by stressing the need to provide financial backing to sporting activities and investments in the next European financing period.
“Sport is becoming an urgent matter to be considered on a political level,” she said, “and I hope that there will be more space for sport in the funding programmes beyond 2020.”
Roberto Pella, CoE rapporteur, stressed in his intervention the need for investments in sport facilities, and also called for sport’s inclusion in the next European financing period.