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Welcome Address to the Play the Game Conference Global sport: reform or revolution?

Welcome Address to the Play the Game Conference Global sport: reform or revolution?
Aarhus, Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thank you

I would like to thank the organisers for the excellent job they have done in bringing us all here together for this conference. From today until Wednesday issues such as anti-doping, good governance, integrity in sport, health enhancing physical activity, the legacy of major sport events and the well-being of athletes are addressed. This conference provides a great platform for us to reflect on what we have achieved in these areas and – more importantly - what still needs to be done.

Needless to say, the topics discussed during this conference are also of great relevance for the Council of Europe. Therefore, we developed – and continue to do so – legal instruments and policy guidelines which promote the Council of Europe's core values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the field of sport. We did not only develop a normative framework for our member States, we also monitor and support its implementation, e.g. with advisory visits and projects carried on with sport organisations and other sport stakeholders.

Anti-Doping

The CoE convention on anti-doping aims to ensure fair play and protects the health and well-being of athletes – a topic which will be brought to the fore during this conference as well.

Talking about the well-being of athletes, I have the pleasure of informing you that in June 2015, the Council of Europe's Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) successfully concluded the EU funded project entitled "Pro Safe Sport". One major result of the project was the creation of an online academy providing technical assistance to public authorities and sport organisations how to ensure safe and healthy sport environments for young athletes.

Concerning, more specifically, the issue of "doping", I would like to draw your attention to the very recent Resolution 2080 of the Parliamentary Assembly on "Rethinking the anti-doping strategy".  Doping is taking on huge proportions in amateur sport and our Assembly is alarmed by the major public health risks it engenders. Preventive work with young amateur and semi-professional athletes and the fight against trafficking should be among the priorities of the anti-doping strategy. In this respect, the Assembly made a number of concrete recommendations to national and international sports associations and federations; I would only refer to the last – but not least – of them: "take action in primary and secondary schools, alongside the authorities, to raise awareness among young people about the risks of doping and help them to develop a sporting culture based on respect for values and sports ethics and not on winning at all costs".

Match-fixing

Match-fixing is possibly the greatest threat to the integrity of professional sport at this moment. Our new convention on match-fixing, opened for signature only 13 months ago – in September 2014 – in Switzerland, is a response to this threat. In the meantime, two Countries have already ratified it and 19 others have signed it. I would like to congratulate Norway and Portugal, which are paving the way for a quick entry into force of the Convention, and to invite all other countries, including non-European ones, to take steps towards the ratification of this unique instrument.

Match-fixing is a complex problem, and any solution will need to involve all the interested stakeholders to protect the integrity – the beauty – of the game. In the fight against match-fixing, we have to work hand in hand with the sport movement, betting operators, law enforcement agencies, gambling regulators and public authorities. And we should seek to bring into the system not only all Council of Europe member states, but also as many other countries as possible: this is a fight that we can only win together.

Therefore, I am very happy to inform you that the European Commission and the CoE will join forces in the fight against match-fixing. As of January 2016, the CoE will implement the project "Keep Crime out of Sport – together against criminal manipulations of sports competitions" which will be funded by DG HOME of the European Commission. This project aims to support capacity building in the member States to successfully fight against match-fixing practices.

Spectator violence

Presently, the spectator violence convention which was launched in 1985 is being revised and updated. The revision of this legal instrument aims at promoting an integrated multi-agency approach in the areas of safety, security and service. Since the existence of the convention many important recommendations were adopted. It was agreed to merge these recommendations into a consolidated version which will offer practical advice on developing national responses to challenges posed by the rise of violence at sport events. It will help Signatory States to establish effective partnership between all relevant stakeholders such as governments, local authorities, the police and sport organisations and draw their attention to the relevant good practices from across Europe.

The relevant committee of the Parliamentary Assembly delivered a positive assessment on the draft convention and I am certain that our final opinion will strongly support the ratification of this new instrument.

While asking spectators to behave properly, let's not forget that those in charge should set the example. This is far from being the case.

Speaking of setting the example brings me to my next point.

Good Governance

Good governance is yet another topic hotly discussed currently. The CoE has conducted important work in this field and shaped the discussions in Europe in this regard – with its recommendation on the principles of good governance in sport of 2005 and the Code of Sport Ethics which was revised in 2010.

Tomorrow, Stanislas Frossard, EPAS Executive Secretary, will present to you the results of the Good Governance survey, we implemented among the EPAS member States. Furthermore, there is a session on "what national governments can do for sports governance" on Monday afternoon from 14:15-16:00 hours. This workshop is co-organised by EPAS.

I expect the discussions to be very interesting and I'd like to invite you to consider attending this workshop, as representatives of public authorities responsible for sport will also be present there.

Let me say that this is an area which was addressed twice by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the last three years, in particular – but not exclusively – with reference to football. At the time of the adoption by the Assembly of resolution 1875 (2012) "Good governance and ethics in sport" and Resolution 2053 (2015) "The reform of football governance", we faced scepticism and protests from FIFA. Today, I am sorry to note that the reality is worse than what we pointed out in our reports.

I am attached to the autonomy of the sports movement, but I just refuse the idea that some leaders of major sport organisations could act as monarchs who rule outside the rule of law and abuse of powers and resources which are entrusted to them. Transparency and accountability shall be there. And if self-regulation cannot ensure it, this is a problem that public authorities will have to solve: this is an issue of public interest and not just a highly lucrative private business.   

As I recently stated, in football, a player gets a yellow card as a warning and then a red card and is sent off. FIFA has been stacking up the yellow cards for too long – now it is time for red. Simply replacing individuals will not solve the problem. It is time to blow the final whistle on it. GAME OVER.

No Hate

The No Hate Parliamentary Alliance launched by the Assembly last January brings together parliamentarians in the member states who pledge to adopt firm and proactive public positions against racism, hatred and intolerance. I would like this alliance to be extended to other international bodies, such as the European Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as well as to gather the moral support from figures in the voluntary sector, sport and religion.

A number of leading personalities have already publicly supported our Alliance and I was honoured that His Holiness Pope Francis is amongst the supporters of our No Hate Parliamentary Alliance.

Sport holds an important place in our societies. It creates the potential for thousands of sportspeople to become role models for youth, and nations to feel proud for their sports-people's achievements in trans-national championships. It is also potentially a powerful vehicle to transmit the values of fairness, respect for others and inclusion, and would therefore be a most valuable supporter to extend our No Hate Campaign.

We have a responsibility to join forces, despite our religious, cultural, national or historical differences, to defend the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law and I hope that the Sport movement will be able to join us in our endeavour to fight against racism, hatred and intolerance.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me conclude by saying that we are very happy to support this conference. I look forward to the discussions and to the contributions that the distinguished speakers and the audience will bring to the debate.

       Let's play the game together!