On 17 December the European Commission organised a seminar on the topic “Specificity of Sport”. The seminar was planned within the framework of the current EU Work Plan for Sport running for the period 2017-2020. More than 120 stakeholders from sport and politics took part at the seminar. The Olympic movement were highly represented together with representatives from the European Commission, the Finnish and Croatian Presidency, and other stakeholders. Fruitful discussions took place during the different panels and presentations showed that:
- All stakeholders recognised the existence of the specific nature of sport activities but opinions diverge on the way to take this specificity into account within European and national legislations.
- The promotion and the protection of the European Sport Model is currently a key topic for the different participants as the sport landscape is currently evolving notably with the involvement of more and more third party commercial organisers.
- The application of EU Competition rules to sport remains subject to discussion between the different actors.
After a short introduction by Yves Le Lostecque, Head of the Sport Unit at the European Commission, Director General Themis Christophidou, DG EAC, European Commission, and Heidi Sulander, Finnish Presidency, opened the seminar in Brussels using “dialogue” between all stakeholders as a key word and highlighting the importance to take into account specificity of sport in all EU policies.
Then two keynote speakers, Richard Parrish, Edge Hill University, and Jean-Michel Brun, Secretary-General of the French Olympic Committee and Member of the EOC Executive Committee, presented their views on the topics. While Richard Parrish approached the topic from an academic point of view focusing on the historical regulations and rulings, Jean-Michel Brun stressed the differences between commercial oriented organisation and non for profit sport actors.
He highlighted the mission of public interest played by sport organisations including societal function and solidarity activities as the main arguments for maintaining and defending the European Sport Model (ESM) and the specificity of sport. In addition, he addressed the necessity to ensure that competition rules take the specificity of sport into consideration as recognised several times by various institutions such as the European Commission, the EU Council, the Council of Europe and the ECJ.
To kick-off the discussions, three panel sessions took place starting with a first focus on “How to define specificity?” Antoine Duval from the Asser Institute gave a presentation on the topic and emphasized two approaches when tackling the question: territorial specificity (sport organisations have a territory where they can freely govern the sport) and sensitive specificity (interpretation depending on the context).
Niels Nygaard, President of the Danish Olympic Committee and Vice-President of the EOC Executive Committee, was one of the panelists and described the Olympic movement’s definition of specificity of sport with a direct reference to the activities conducted under the European Sport Model and the pyramid structure. Nevertheless, he stressed that sport organisations require a high level of governance in order to defend their autonomy. Sport should not be primarily regarded as an economic activity that must be governed by the EU. Furthermore, Nygaard expressed his concern about the need to define a common ground. Ana Garcia Castillo (DG COMP of the European Commission) confirmed the case by case approach used by DG COMP and highlighted that the European Commission does not want to replace the role of sport organisations but that the rules need to be clear, transparent and proportionate with a reference to Good Governance. In the question and answers session, the FIBA/Euroleague dispute was mentioned and a clear demand was directed to DG COMP to become active in this case in order to ensure that national teams can play with their best players in their qualification matches for Olympic Games.
The discussion started with a presentation from Roxana Maracineanu, French Minister of Sports where she recalled the strong support of France to the European Sport Model and the danger represented by closed leagues from her perspective. She also invited the Commission to become more active on the protection of the ESM by initiating a discussion between the different actors to find a common ground.
Jana Janotovà, Czech Olympic Committee and EOC EU Office, moderated the second session of the day on “How is the specificity of sport taken into account at national level?” Jean Michel Saive, Vice-President of the Belgian Olympic Committee and former athlete underlined the necessity of having a sport calendar that avoids overlaps of events as it happens in his career. Furthermore, he backed the existing Solidarity Model in sport that supports athletes in all sports and countries.
Jean-Francois Brocard, Centre de Droit et d’Economie du Sport de Limoges, first presented some key findings from a recent study revolving around the European Sport Model in relation to the emergence of closed leagues in Europe compared to closed leagues in the U.S. One of the main findings of Brocard analysis was “that European law is not intended to protect the traditional sports model in Europe as it stands”. The study will be published in January 2020.
The panel discussion focused on the societal role of sport and a comparison between countries. Two distinguishable differences were the financing aspects as well as the scope of legislation related to the organisation of sport activities in each country.
The final session of the day discussed “How and why protect the specificity of sport?”. Tobias Maass, DG COMP, European Commission, presented a summary of the ISU-case.
In his presentation he stressed that private entities shall not ride on all benefits sport associations are putting forward but the fact that there were possible less restricting measures made the rules observed in the ISU case disproportionate. Maass explained that the restriction of competition in the ISU case was not linked to a legitimate object but other interests of the ISU. Folker Hellmund, Director of the EOC EU Office, highlighted the importance of high good governance standards in sport organisation and welcomed the progress that has been made in the last years. Furthermore he emphasized that the ISU judgement confirmed the right of sport organisations to restrict competition when measures are appropriate, necessary and follow legitimate objectives such as health, safety, integrity or if these measures are needed to govern properly the respective sport. Hellmund requested that the latter objective needs to be clarified and in future cases the EU Commission should use its margin of interpretation to increase the legal certainty for sport organisations.
Martina Jericevic from the incoming Croatian Presidency and Antoaneta Angelova-Krasteva, DG EAC, European Commission, concluded the seminar by mentioning the main features discussed during the day such as cooperation across different sectors and a dialogue that remains open as well as the importance of maintaining both grassroots sport and elite sport.