EU sport policy

With the Treaty of Lisbon set to introduce an EU competence for sport policy in 2009, the Commission has already laid out its plans in a white paper published in summer 2007.

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  • PreLex: White Paper on Sport

Currently, sport is not an EU competence and it is subject to Community law insofar as it constitutes an economic activity. The EU Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe signed in October 2004, however, foresaw the introduction of sport into the treaty to give the EU a legal base to support member states in the social, educational and cultural aspects of sport (see Article 182 on Sportof the Constitutional Treaty).

After the rejection of the Treaty in France and the Netherlands in late spring 2005, it was shelved for a “period of reflection”. In June 2007, EU leaders mandated an Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to reform the Constitutional Treaty by the end of the year 2007. Their mandate reiterated the need to introduce an EU competence for sport.

The Commission, in June 2006, held a consultation conference on the EU’s role in sport policy with European-level actors. It held a series of meetings on the societal role of sport, its economic impact and organisation.

In the consultation conference, European sports associations and the Commission’s views on good sports governance clashed, as associations accused the Commission of an excessive focus on professional football and of neglecting the needs of amateur sport. The consultation was then broadened to non-European actors.


The Commission adopted, on 11 July 2007, a White Paper on Sport, which it said, represents “the first comprehensive initiative” in the EU.

The document proposes a number of actions to be implemented and supported by the Commission in three areas:

  • the societal role of sport: enhancing public health through physical activity, fighting doping, enhancing the role of sport in education, volunteer activities, social inclusion, fighting racism, sport as a tool for development;
  • the economic dimension of sport: collection of comparable data, ensuring financial support for grassroots sports organisations;
  • the organisation of sport: the specific nature of sport, free movement, player transfers, players’ agents, protection of minors, corruption and money laundering, licensing system for clubs, media rights.

The proposals are brought together in a ‘Pierre de Coubertin’ Action Plan , which details 53 concrete proposals for future EU action in these areas. Proposed actions range from supporting an EU physical activity network and launching a study to assess the sector’s contribution to the ‘Lisbon Agenda’ for growth and jobs in the EU. Others include the fight against corruption, an impact assessment of the activities of players’ agents and a conference on licensing systems in football.

The White Paper builds, to a certain extent, on the Independent Review of European Sports initiated by the UK EU Presidency in 2005 and drafted with support from EU sports ministers, UEFA and FIFA. The final version of the review, published in autumn 2006, recommended that the Commission provide clear guidance on the type of ‘sport rules’ compatible with Community law.


According to Ján FigelEU Commissioner for Education, training culture and youth, the White Paper is not legally binding, but rather “a show of political will to indicate the direction to be followed with regard to sport in the EU”.

“The implementation of the White Paper can help pave the way towards future EU supportive action in the sport sector as the recent European Council has re-opened the possibility of a Treaty provision on sport,” Figel said, adding that a specific Sport Ministerial Council could then be envisaged. “As agreed in the White Paper, the initiative does not weaken the application of EU law to sports. It means that there is no exclusivity given to sports over EU rules or content of EU law. A case by case approach remains the basis for Commission’s control for implementation of EU law,” added Figel.

MEP Ivo Belet (EPP-ED, Belgium), who is drafting a Parliament report on the future of professional football, criticised the White Paper, referring in particular to the absence of “clear rules as regards players’ agents”. He also deplored the lack of a clear incentive for “more solidarity in sports” by means of, for example, “opting for the collective selling of TV rights”.

“The White Paper on Sports lacks ambition and courage. It undoubtedly contains positive elements, but it does not give a satisfactory answer to the questions raised by the European Parliament and the sports sector,” Belet said.

UK Conservative MEPs were even more critical and urged the UK Government “to ensure that the White Paper is shelved and a new consultation started to avoid confusion as to who now is responsible for overseeing sport in the UK”.

“Politicians should not be interfering in sport, but as the EU seems determined to do it, it is essential that sporting organisations are involved at every stage. We need a proper consultation across all sports at all levels, not something hidden away in an obscure corner of the Commission’s website,” said MEP Chris Heaton-Harris (EPP-ED).“As it is, the Commission should withdraw this White Paper, re-consult and reconsider its conclusions,” he added.

European sports associations have repeatedly emphasised that the organisation of sports needs should stay at the organisations’ level. Therefore, they reject any proposals that would restrict the autonomy of sports or create EU regulations on competences currently resting on sports organisations.

Associations do not want to see sport becoming an EU competence, but rather urge its acknowledgement as a horizontal matter affected by different EU policies, as well as placing sport into mainstreaming EU policies.

Dr Gernot Wainig, the chairman of the European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation’s (ENGSO) working group on EU affairs, said he was satisfied with the White Paper, but added that it is only a start, “a book with a lot of questions, without many answers, but some good proposals”.

“The big matters, problems, issues (player agents, transfer, health, doping…) are in the book. A big identification with the result should be the next step to go on in a successful way,” he said, reiterating, however, that the real competence is still missing and that without a Treaty and a specific budget for the future, the sport policy area “will be poor”. “The Nice Declaration is the only legal interpretation, presented seven years ago and since that there has been no development.”

A joint Fédération Internationale de Football Associations (FIFA) – International Olympic Committee (IOC) declaration states that “while the concept of a White Paper on Sport was to be welcomed, the content of the final version represents – unfortunately – a missed opportunity. The White Paper is structured in full contradiction with the actual architecture of the Olympic movement, ignoring in particular the regulatory competences of the International Federations, the division of responsibilities between the latter and their European Confederations, the global nature of the issues and challenges currently affecting sport as well as the solutions which are today necessary.”

“The IOC, EOC, FIFA and UEFA had in recent months vainly worked in an attempt to convince politicians that they were heading in a direction that was not favourable to the promotion of sport. The Olympic Movement will, for its part, continue to cooperate with the member states and the Commission with a view to including sport into a new ‘Reform Treaty’ currently being evaluated by the Portuguese EU Presidency,” stated the European Olympic Committee (EOC).

The Centrum für Europäische Politik (CEP), a German think tank, finds “questionable” the measures proposed on, for example, advertising on television rights, gender equality and solidarity between sports clubs. CEP advises the EU to seriously consider the autonomy of sports as well as the principle of subsidiarity and to intervene only regarding cross-border problems.

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