The European Union and Sport: Law and Policy

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Ladies and gentlemen, Dear audience!

First of all, I would like to thank the Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Ministry of Sports for inviting me and my colleague from the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, M Roberto Branco Martins, to speak at this Conference. Today the T.M.C. Asset Institute to which the Centre belongs is celebrating its fortieth anniversary at an official meeting in the Peace Palace in The Hague at which the Dutch Minister of justice will also be present. Nevertheless, we chose to accept your invitation to attend this high-profile conference in Warsaw. Of course, the Netherlands and Poland recently tightened relations with the appointment of Leo Beenhakker as the coach of the Polish national football team. We hope and expect that he will be successful in Poland and that his legal status will soon be normalised ... In this context, I would like to stress that I personally opposed the partial accession of the "new" Member States. Becoming a Member State of the European Union should imply full membership right from the start if all the conditions are fulfilled. It is good to note that as from t January 2007 all restrictions for Polish professional football players to play in our country will finally be lifted.

The subject of this introductory speech is "The European Union and Sport: Law and Policy".

Not everybody knows that the European Union has a fairly extensive record in the field of sport. Last year, the Asset Centre published a book containing some 900 pages of selected legal and policy documents (resolutions of the European Parliament, decisions of the Commission, memoranda, jurisprudence of the European Court of justice, etc.) and another 900 pages were put on the Centre's website. The EU has dealt with a wide range of subjects since the so-called Walrave case in 1974. These include doping and football hooliganism, themes which were initially the exclusive domain of the Council of Europe, the human rights organisation that today includes about 50 European countries. The European Union is a financially powerful organisation which funds research in the field of sport. In recent years, for example, Brussels commissioned the Centre to conduct research into the harmonisation of doping rules in national and international sports associations and federations and into tackling transnational football hooliganism. In 2003/2004, Roberto Branco Martins and his team travelled around Europe visiting all EU Member States, "old" and "new", in the framework of an EU project aimed at promoting Social Dialogue in Europe in the professional football sector. And last year, we produced a report on Professional Sport in the Internal Market for the European Parliament.

When we talk about EU and Sport, it should be emphasised that sport as such is not incorporated in the Treaties. The much debated Constitution for Europe contains a provision which also explicitly touches on sport. However as we know, the ratification process of this treaty--which is not a Constitution in the legal sense of the word--is now being suspended following last year's negative referenda results in France and the Netherlands. In my opinion, these results were down to a basic misunderstanding among the populations of both countries about what Europe is all about and the function of the treaty. This development is regrettable and in my view definitely detrimental to political progress in Europe! In this situation, the sports provision in the Constitution for Europe may only be used by advocates as an argument before court. The text confirms the importance attributed by the EU to the social and cultural function of sport and the respect for its special character and structures. These aspects were incorporated in the Declarations on Sport attached to the Treaties of Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2000), which were stepping stones in the development of the fundamentals of the EU. The Treaty of Nice is still the law currently in force after the postponement of the ratification process of the Constitution for Europe. …