The meeting was chaired by Estonia, which has championed a number of initiatives in sport, in particular bringing together the Member States of the European Union and sports organisations to jointly discuss the issues they face. Addressing the plenary session entitled “The main challenges facing sport in the 21st century”, President Bach welcomed “the great opportunity to swap ideas and opinions and to set a new tone for the cooperation between the European Union, governments and sports organisations”.
The IOC President called on Europe to respect and preserve the European Sports Model. “It is my sincere hope that we do not lose sight of the important social role of sport by equating it with commercial sports business. We are deeply concerned about certain interpretations of the European treaty and EU competition law with regard to sports,” he said. “If everything in Europe is looked at only from a business perspective, the social value of sport is lost. Sport is about so much more than business,” he added.
It is my sincere hope that we do not lose sight of the important social role of sportThomas Bach IOC President
Chairing the meeting, Indrek Saar, the Minister for Culture of Estonia, currently holding the Council presidency, added, “Europe is not just about economy and the single market, it’s also what we create, what we read, what we listen to, what we play. Culture, arts and sport are the glue that binds our communities together. They create a sense of belonging, and contribute to healthy, inclusive and cohesive societies. In these challenging times for Europe, it is all the more important that we step up our efforts at all levels to encourage citizens' participation in such activities.”
The speakers also addressed the good governance and autonomy of sport. The EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, Tibor Navracsics told the audience:
“The social role of sport has become especially important in recent years, in particular in the context of the migration challenges that Europe is facing. The sports movement has already considerably contributed to a more integrated European society with sports coaches playing an important role,” he said.
President Bach also addressed current doping issues, and in particular the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. He told the meeting that an IOC commission chaired by the former President and Sports Minister of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid, is about to finish its work, after having followed due process by establishing evidence and granting the right to be heard to the Russian side.
“It may be needless to say here in this meeting that due process has to be respected. But because of some specific comments in one or other country, I would like to emphasise that the rule of law is another common principle shared by the EU and its Member States and the Olympic Movement,” said President Bach. “Therefore, any calls for specific sanctions before this due process has been followed are entirely inappropriate,” he added.