What impact does sport have on Finnish society and on people’s daily lives there?
HT: Sport and related activities are part of the biggest “national movement” in Finland. It is an integral part of people’s daily lives and significant time is devoted to it in the press and on television. Using sport to promote healthy living is very popular both in the private and public sector. Pushing values related to health and tolerance through sport is not difficult. Sport is crucial for influencing and supporting activities that fight against racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of discrimination.
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.
You are one of five MEPs behind the Written Declaration calling for greater EU support for core sports which was adopted on December 16th 2010. What are you hoping to achieve with this text?
HT: Currently, the role of sport at EU level is quite minor despite its new legal basis. Nonetheless, it is beneficial that the importance and impact of sport on society as a whole has been recognised at European level. Given the tough economic conditions, we are well aware of the budget-related challenges that exist and that is why my colleagues and I (all sports lovers!) wanted to launch this Written Declaration. We particularly wanted to draw attention to the voluntary and grassroots side of sport because all too often people associate sport with the elite organisations, athletes and competitions. Indirectly, we also wanted to emphasise the fact that taking part in sport brings enormous health benefits.
My point of view has always been that one euro spent on sport translates to a saving of at least two euros in social costs, particularly health costs. We have to invest in sport because it will enable us to make long-term savings and increase Europe’s competitiveness. The Written Declaration which was signed by more than 400 MEPs helped bring these questions to the attention of politicians as well as the wider public.
But how can this Declaration lead to concrete actions for sport when there is no specific budget for sport?
HT: This is the major challenge and one that is difficult to resolve. As I mentioned before, we hope that our Written Declaration will focus the attention of politicians and the wider public on the positive aspects of sport. At the same time, I am afraid that Member States do not currently understand the general principles and advantages of sport. They tend to leave sporting matters solely in the hands of the volunteer sector. This sector does of course somewhat respond to the budgetary challenges but there is also a need for centralised action, in recognition of the many advantages that sport brings. By providing proof of these advantages to the wider public, we can create greater support within the EU. The Commission has in fact consulted citizens on the issue of sport and recognised the benefits it brings. We hope that there will soon be a specific budget for sport which will enable us to move towards more far-reaching actions.