In partnership with the think tank Sport and Citizneship, Touteleurope.fr publishes an interview from their quarterly journal. Seán Kelly, MEP, former President of the Gaelic Athletic Association and former Executive President of the Irish Sporting Institute, explains how sport can contribute to the forging of a European identity.
Gaelic sports are known to be truly part of the Irish identity. Can you explain mind their history and the main values of these games? In which way are they symbol and part of Irish identity?
Sport and citizenship was created in 2007 as the fisrt think tank in the field of sport. It publishes a quarterly journal on a theme related to sport and Europe.
Seán Kelly : Gaelic games are the most obvious and one of the most loved aspects of Irish identity practices. There are two main games, played by both women and men, namely hurling and Gaelic football.
They are both 15-a-side games played on a pitch almost twice the size of a soccer field. In a population of 4 million people, Gaelic games are played in every parish encompassing 2,500 clubs, 250,000 players and a membership of a million people.
The games are entirely amateur even though the major games played in Croke Park attract attendances of 82,500 regularly. Gaelic games grew out of the Nationalist revival of the late 19th Century when the Irish people decided they didn't want to either be ruled by Britain or practise its games or customs.
In your opinion, can sport in general be a motor of a common identity for example at a European scale?
Seán Kelly is an Irish MEP and member of the European People's Party. He was elected to the European Parliament for the first time in 2009.
Seán Kelly : Yes, the value of sport both politically and culturally has never been appreciated and therefore, recognised or supported.
The European Union should be emphasising and encouraging sport as a common identifier in terms of ethos and pride. This should be done through supporting the major European (and global games) such as soccer, rugby etc. but also through indigenous games as a major contributor to cultural diversity and respect. There is a great opportunity to develop far more sports related opportunities as a means of European identity.
Since May 2009, you are an MEP. As you are specialised on sport issues could you tell us a little more about the impact of the Lisbon Treaty on European Sport? Do you think that the EU having a competence on sport will be an asset to build sports programme in order to develop a European identity through sport? What could be expected?
Depuis la ratification du traité de Lisbonne, on attend beaucoup de l'UE dans le domaine du sport.
Seán Kelly : Much is expected from the EU in relation to sport as a result of the Lisbon Treaty. However, progress is going to be slow - very slow - as sport is undervalued at EU level.
There is a small core group of MEP's dedicated to making a European wide impact but it will take a lot of work and persuasion to achieve real progress. We will have to ensure that promotion, encouragement and recognition of sport is an opportunity that we must utilise as well as a result of the Lisbon Treaty while also dealing with major regulatory matters such as anti-doping and freedom of movement etc. We can make a big impact but it will be slow and I will need constant support and encouragement from all bodies who love sport and appreciate its unifying value.
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