Interview with the European Commissioner Mariya Gabriel
Before the launch of the 2021 edition of the European Week of Sport, we spoke to Ms Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, to learn more about the new initiatives, Erasmus+ programme, promotion of inclusion and well-being in sport, and more.
Grassroots sport proved to be of great importance (as a stress relief tool) during the Covid-19 crisis but still, a lot of sport clubs across Europe had to close their doors permanently because of the financial losses. What is the European Commission’s response to this crisis; measures, funding and support available for grassroots sport?
Sport clubs and fitness centres experienced a tough period, filled with lockdowns, restrictions, cancellations and closures. Despite this, many people did not give up on sport and physical activity. People’s awareness of sport and fitness as key to a healthy lifestyle has actually increased since the start of the crisis. Aside from our health, both physical and mental, the social inclusion, personal development and entertainment aspects sport offers have also become increasingly evident. We have also seen how sport is a major part of the economy as a source of growth and jobs.
To limit the negative impact on grassroots sport and on the economy of the sport sector, the Commission has put forward several financial actions and tools. These include the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, a new instrument for temporary Support to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an emergency and the NextGenerationEU recovery plan. All of which offer several possibilities for the sport sector to benefit from.
The Erasmus+ Programme also contributes to the financial support of sport organisations, with EUR 470 million for the 2021-2027 period. Partners, including those active at the grassroots levels, can benefit from these funds to work together across Europe, for instance in promoting social inclusion and participation in sport. In addition, Extra flexibility has been provided within the Erasmus+ Sport Chapter in line with the existing legal rules for sport projects to alleviate pressure on sports organisations. This includes the extension of contracts, adaptation of activities, payments etc.
With a view to making the instruments mentioned above easier to use and to help pinpoint funding, the following actions have been or are being conducted.
First, to provide evidence on innovative approaches to sports’ promotion outside traditional structures, a mapping study was published in March 2020. This study includes a set of recommendations to help the sector adapt and innovate based on a series of concrete practices.
In addition, we are conducting several preparatory actions notably on grassroots sports programmes and infrastructure innovation. The aim is to give sport organisations the opportunity to develop and promote new forms of practicing sport and physical activity through the adaptation of the infrastructure or the offer of sport activities. A sum of EUR 2 million has been earmarked for this action in its second year.
Moreover, in 2018 the Commission launched, the SHARE - SportHub: Alliance for Regional development in Europe initiative in order to raise awareness on the role of sport and physical activity in the context of regional and local development. This platform facilitates exchange and provides practical information on how the sport sector can benefit from the different funds available. It has published a guide on how the sport sector can benefit from the NextGenerationEU, amongst other initiatives.
Finally, in the context of the EU Work Plan for Sport 2021-2024, the Commission will pursue its dialogue with Member States and sport stakeholders in the framework of a specific Expert Group devoted to the post-pandemic recovery.
The Erasmus+ programme has been improved and revamped, and its budget increased: what are your expectations from the new Erasmus+, especially in the field of sport? What are you hoping to see the programme will achieve in 6 years from now?
The new Erasmus+ programme builds on the experience of its predecessor programmes. With an increased overall budget of more than EUR 28 billion, the new programme will be able to address new challenges in education, training, youth and sport. Erasmus+ 2021-2027 will be more inclusive, support the green and digital transitions, promote participation, foster innovation, and help boost resilience in the face of the pandemic.
In the field of sport, we can count on nearly double the budget compared to the previous programme. Thanks to this new budget, we expect to fund more sport projects around Europe to address the Erasmus+ challenges and priorities in the field of sport such as encouraging healthy lifestyles for all. These new resources will also allow us to further expand our activities like the launch of the #BeActive Across Generations prize in 2022. This new prize will help expand the message of the HealthyLifestyle4All initiative even further. We are also planning on launching a new learning mobility scheme thanks to which sport staff will be able to enjoy mobility opportunities, pencilled in for 2023 at the earliest.
EQUALITY and INCLUSION
The pandemic exposed inequalities in sport. Why do you think equal and inclusive access and opportunities in sport are important? How are you planning to tackle the issue of inequality in sport?
Equality and inclusion are overarching objectives for the European Commission and have always been priorities for European Sport. Sport contributes to the so-called Union of Equality, a series of Commission policies and actions that challenge discrimination and stereotypes and create conditions for everyone’s inclusion regardless of sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. Sport is widely recognised as an effective vehicle for these aspirations and the European Commission shares this view.
Moreover, combating violence, racism, discrimination and intolerance remains a specific priority across sport. I am proud to say that from grassroots sport organisations to large established institutions, Erasmus+ has been a driving force aimed at this by supporting inclusion and equality access in sport in all its dimensions. Taking this further, the new Erasmus+ programme integrates diversity and inclusion as a horizontal priority, which will include the development of a dedicated framework of inclusion measures.
The #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards highlight exemplary initiatives from the field of sport as part of the implementation of the new Erasmus+ framework of inclusion measures showcasing the achievements of grassroots organisations in fostering inclusion by combining sport, participation, skills development and/or addressing children and youth. The #BeInclusive EU Sport Awards is a tangible contribution of EU sport policy that highlights the Commission’s commitment to the EU values of equality, inclusion, tolerance and non-discrimination. The 2021 awards competition is open until 21 October.
Gender equality is a particularly important aspect of the Commission’s equality and inclusion policy and one that is particularly close to my heart. Sport actively contributed to the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2021-2025. Participation in sport governance, sport competitions and even in grassroots sport is still unequal. This is why I launched a High Level Group on Gender Equality in sport at the beginning of this year. Meeting regularly, actions and priorities have been defined by the 15 high-level experts with a view to making a set of recommendations to the European Commission, Member States and the Sport Movement before the end of the year.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic young people struggle with unemployment, their education is disrupted, sport and cultural activities which offer a relief were or are still closed. What are the European Commission’s measurements to help youth recover from the impact of the pandemic? Are you planning to include youth in the discussion about the Covid-19 recovery?
The youth of Europe represent our future so it is only natural that many of the actions that the European Union has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have focused on helping young people. For instance, the coordination of travel measures and the EU digital COVID certificate have made it possible for student mobility schemes and youth exchanges to resume.
When we talk about longer-term recovery, it is reassuring that EUR 750 billion out of the EUR 1.8 trillion long-term EU budget are reserved for the NextGenerationEU recovery fund, which I mentioned above. This fund will make Europe more resilient, green, digital, healthy, and inclusive, a better place to live for the next generation. The European Commission has asked Member States to make children and youth a priority in their recovery plans funded by NextGenerationEU.
To build back better from the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, we adopted a Youth Employment Support package in July 2020. The Youth Employment Support – A Bridge to Jobs for the Next Generation is built around four strands. Firstly, a reinforced Youth Guarantee; secondly, a future-proof approach for vocational education and training; thirdly a renewed European Alliance for Apprenticeships; and finally additional elements supporting youth employment.
These are just a few specific examples of how we are helping youth recover from the impact of the pandemic. A lot more actions will be taking place in the framework of the 2019-2027 EU Youth Strategy.
Let us not forget that the new Erasmus+ programme and European Solidarity Corps, both launched this year, promote young people’s learning mobility and engagement in society. With their significantly increased budget they are powerful tools to tackle many of the challenges faced by young people in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Of course, we are consulting and including youth in the design and implementation of all measures that impact them and their future. This happens though a structured exercise, the EU Youth Dialogue, in which thousands of young people from all around the EU contribute with opinions, proposals and ideas.
Currently, we are also inviting young people to express their views in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which will run until spring 2022. Every single person in Europe can get involved in the Conference through its digital platform.
We always actively involve youth representatives and youth organisations in the co-creation of solutions, which address the many challenges young people are facing.
For those interested, there are many ways to get involved. The EU Youth Portal has information about all these opportunities and a much more.
ENGSO would like to express special appreciation to the Commissioner for taking the time to answer our questions.