The EU Sport Forum took place on the 8th and 9th June 2021. For the first time ever, the event was fully digital. This edition’s theme was ‘Towards a healthier, resilient and sustainable European sport’. The first day focused on sustainability, while the second day was centred around health and inclusion.
In her introductory speech, Commissioner Gabriel underlined how, despite the challenges, the sport movement did not let European citizens down during the pandemic, as being active helped us to keep our balance and improve our mental health. The European Commission launched its #BeActiveAtHome campaign during the pandemic and has now created an expert group on the impact of COVID-19. Tiago Brandão Rodrigues, Portuguese Minister of Education, also emphasized the importance of health-enhancing physical activity and highlighted that the Lisboa Call on Sport Innovation will be launched during the Portuguese Presidency’s Seminar on Sport Innovation later in June. Lastly, MEP Tomasz Frankowski, Co-Chair of the EP Sports Group, added that the sport sector needs support for the recovery of the pandemic and needs access to the funding of the EU funding programmes such as EU4Health, to realise its full public health potential.
During the first session, panellists discussed how sport could be more environmentally friendly. Following introductory remarks by Mr Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, all panellists agreed that climate change has a very concrete impact on sports, especially winter and aquatic sports, and it is important that the sector plays its part in the green transition. The second session focused on challenges posed by the pandemic. Ms Kornelija Tiesnesytė, Former Deputy Minister for Sport of Lithuania, stressed the importance of sport for physical and mental health, and that governments should encourage people to be active. Lastly, the third session discussed the impact of COVID-19 on coaches and athletes.
Subsequently, Ms Floor van Houdt, Head of the Sport Unit at the European Commission, gave an update on the new Erasmus+ Programme. Its goals and priorities are to promote participation, to encourage inclusion, and to support the European recovery while making sports greener. It will aim to support the sport sector, ensure fairness and good governance, while making it accessible and available for everyone.
The second day focused on physical activity and sport as part of a healthy lifestyle. In her introduction, Commissioner Mariya Gabriel presented the HealthyLifestyle4All initiative. This will be a two-year campaign, which will focus on three pillars: more awareness for healthy lifestyles across generations; access to sport and physical activity, focusing on inclusion and non-discrimination; building synergies across sectors so all stakeholders can work together. A platform will be launched in September so organisations can participate or propose activities.
In the first panel of the second, the role of physical activity for a healthy lifestyle was discussed. Mr Cliff Collins, Director of Programmes at EuropeActive, explained that regular exercise is crucial for the prevention of several non-communicable diseases, as well as to maintain and improve our mental health. A healthy lifestyle includes physical, mental and social wellbeing, and that the fitness and physical activity sector has a key role to play in that area. The other panellists, including Dr Fiona Bull, Head of the Physical Activity Unit at the WHO, expanded on this and mentioned that physical activity should be a part of every individual’s daily life. There are opportunities for everyone to be active outside, through active mobility or within local communities. Ms Simona Kustec, Minister of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia, explained that lifelong physical activity is part of the Slovenian presidency programme, with a dedicated conference on this topic taking place on 24th September.
The last two sessions focused on the role of sport for a healthier and more inclusive, gender-balanced society. Mr Andre de Jeu, Director of the Dutch Association of Sports and Municipalities, stated that physical activity is a preventive health asset, while Mr Paolo Caserotti, Head of the Center for Active and Healthy Ageing of the University of Southern Denmark, said that clubs can use this health promotion aspect in their activities. They can benefit from health prevention and promotion, and it also benefits society. Regarding gender balance, Ms Emine Bozkurt, Chair of the High-Level Group on Gender Equality, underlined how women were particularly impacted by the pandemic, and how sport can contribute to a more inclusive society. Mr Stanilas Frossard, Executive Secretary of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport at the Council of Europe, added that we are on the right track, but a lot more still needs to be done in that regard.
In her concluding speech, Commissioner Gabriel further emphasized the importance of working towards a healthier, more resilient and more sustainable European sport. She invited everyone to submit new ideas for the upcoming HealthyLifestyles4All initiative.
The programme and video recordings of the 2021 EU Sport Forum can be accessed here.