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Giorgos Demosthenous: "In our days match-fixing is the biggest current threat to the world of sport"

Since the first of July, Cyprus has taken the lead of the Presidency of the EU, succeeding to Poland and Denmark. Following the EU Sport Forum held in Nicosia, Sport&Citizenship met Giorgos Demosthenous, Cypriot Minister for Education and Culture.

What are the Cyprus Presidency’s priorities in the field of sport?

This think tank founded in 2007 focusses on the role of sport in European societies. It publishes a quarterly review on issues related to sport and citizenship.

Giorgos Demosthenous: We work towards both the social and the economic aspect of sport, in line with the attempt to develop the European dimension in sport. To this extent, we are focusing on five priorities: Sport and Public Health; Evidence-based Sport Policy; Match-Fixing; Anti-Doping and Sport Sub-program.

Within the 2014-2020 multi-annual financial framework, there should be a real EU sport budget. Are you confident as regard the final adoption of this new budget line?

Giorgos Demosthenous: Sport is one of the few new areas that the EU was given a new competence with the revised treaty (article 165 of the Lisbon treaty). For this to be achieved, a specific sport program is an absolute necessity. It is not just a financial issue. The sport program as currently prescribed in the proposal of the European Commission can achieve this. The preparatory actions financed by the Commission in the last three years have shown that sport organisations can be creative and that they indeed provide an added value not only to sports but also to society in general. We are confident that all these positive aspects of sport will be appreciated from all stakeholders and the proposed budget for sport will be maintained.

It was one of the issues debated during the EU Sport Forum, scheduled for 19 and 20 September 2012 in Nicosia.

You aimed at implementing a European day (or week) for sport. Why this proposal?

Giorgos Demosthenous: Evidence is accumulating that prevalence of physical inactivity, sedentary lifestyle and obesity among the EU general population, is highly rated. This high prevalence involves important public health burdens and preventive strategies are urgently needed. In this respect, a need has been arisen for exploiting new approaches to promote a wider participation in sport and physical activity across Europe, in order to improve and strengthen public health and social inclusion.

The establishment and recognition of an annual European Day (or Week) of Sport is based on several existing campaigns aiming to increase public awareness and to promote physical activity and sport.

We strongly believe that the implementation of a European Day or Week of Sport will engage not only the participation of individuals but it will encourage and strengthen the cooperation between different sectors, both public and private, such as sport, health, education, transportation, and local authorities. The cooperation of all main actors will set high on the political agenda the need for health-enhancing physical activity on national and European level.

Match-fixing is also a hot issue. What could be expected in this field under the Cyprus Presidency?

Giorgos Demosthenous: It is not an exaggeration to state that in our days match-fixing is the biggest current threat to the world of sport. We therefore need to act as quickly and as efficiently as a possible. Match-fixing remains a priority for the Cyprus Presidency and we have planned two actions in this field.
Firstly, we hope that during the November meeting of the Education, Training, Youth and Sport Council, our proposal for a new Conclusion in the area of match-fixing will be adopted where specific proposals will be made as we how can fight this problem, based to a large extend on the work of the sport expert group “Good Governance of the EU” .

Secondly, as match-fixing is a problem that affects not only the states but also the sport movement we took the opportunity of the EU Sport Forum and proposed a joint declaration between sport Ministers and sport movement in combating this problem.

Match-fixing is a problem not confined to one sport or to one country, as such the only realistic way to combat the problem is through international co-operation. The Council of Europe initiative is commendable and we surely support it.

Concerning the fight against doping, you want the EU to act in a coordinated manner at the WADA. Does this approach sound feasible in a near future? What is your position as regards the conciliation between anti-doping rules and the privacy of athletes?

Giorgos Demosthenous: We consider doping a serious public-health problem, affecting everyone involved in sports and therefore the fight against doping is indeed among our priorities. Anti-doping has become an increasingly important item on the EU agenda and EU co-ordination in WADA is a long standing issue of paramount importance. A way to improve this is by improving co-ordination within EU but without duplicating the work already being performed under the auspices of the Council of Europe and CAHAMA. To that extend the EU has adopted new rules of representation that will be effective as from the 1st of January 2013.

Data collections through anti-doping programs may undermine the privacy of athletes, but it is needed to prevent those athletes who want to cheat from using doping out-of-competition. At the same time we require from WADA and anti-doping organizations, to have in place strict data protection rules and follow them for the benefit of clean athletes. We believe that data protection and privacy rules should operate within the acquis communautaire but never be used to cover up doped athletes. Data protection in the field of anti-doping is a complex and sensitive issue that requires our continuous attention as the matter constantly evolves.

You are Minister of Education and Culture and also in charge of Youth and Sport. What link do you see between these four areas? Do you consider Cyprus as a sportive nation?

Giorgos Demosthenous: Education, Culture, Youth and Sports share the common overall aim for the development of free and democratic citizens who contribute to the promotion of cooperation, mutual understanding, respect and love among individuals and people for the prevalence of freedom, justice and peace. All four policy areas are inter-linked contributing to the life and wellbeing of all citizens.

Cyprus has a history of more than 3000 years in sports. The latest EU Eurobarometer has placed Cyprus approximately in middle of the frequency with which sport and physical activities are performed in Cyprus. We therefore know there is still a long way to go until we feel satisfied with the levels of sport and physical activities in Cyprus.

In the framework of the Educational Reform, my Ministry (MOEC) aims at the continuous and qualitative improvement of the quality of education offered. In this effort a new curriculum for Physical Education has been designed and is currently implemented. It aims to develop and improve the students’ skills by participating in various physical and sports activities and enhance children’s comprehensive abilities, social profiles, nurturing and developing team spirit, sense of solidarity, respect of the rules and procedures moral and social values.
The MOEC and the Cyprus Sport Organization (supreme sport national authority in Cyprus) are committed to the provision of quality services (educational, recreational and physical) for all citizens and their efforts are concentrated towards fulfilling this ambitious goal. The achievements of Cypriot soccer teams in Champion’s League, together with the first Olympic medal won by the sailor Pavlos Kontidis in the 2012 London Olympics prove that our support and investments in sport has positive results.

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