Kurt Bodewig Bundesminister a.D.

Rede von MdB Kurt Bodewig beim "2nd World Congress TAFISA" in Riga


Ladies and gentlemen, as the vice-chairman of the European board in the German Bundestag I want to thank you for the invitation to this event. To this occasion I would also like to transmit you the regards of the German Bundestag. Our goal, the goal we are pursuing through European integration, is no longer just to make peace. We have become more demanding. In the world of the 21st century, the dangers we face have not diminished, but changed.

We are having to face up to challenges like the non proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, human trafficking, international organised crime, the destruction of the environment and the growing gulf between rich and poor all over the world. No state is strong enough to handle all this on its own. Even the biggest. The fact that we are part of an integrated regional organisation of 27 states enables us to address these challenges more effectively. A look at the map of Europe, or a look at other continents, will probably make it abundantly clear that we have plenty of very practical issues to tackle in Europe.

Nevertheless, we should be grateful and also a little proud that, even if the problems we Europeans are having to grapple are difficult, they are to a great extent routine in nature. After all, we are not having to cope with war, mass movements of refugees, catastrophic impoverishment or disease, starvation and malnourishment affecting very broad sections of the population. What kind of role is left for sport in this context? Is it possible for sport to have its voice heard in the debates that will shape our common future? Can sport also help to create sustainable living conditions?

Sport is one of the cultural goods that can significantly influence the sustainability of our existence in the 21st century – which means it can truly be a matter of life anddeath: for example, when it comes to promoting health or communal coexistence. However, the forms of sport I am thinking of are different from the sports cultivated by our forefathers. They are sporting activities that are open not just to the talented and the well-off, the young and the well established. And they are very certainly not sports people only watch on television.

The international dimension of sport is primarily reflected in public perceptions when major events are held. World championships and the Olympic Games accordingly send out signals about sport’s place in international relations. It is a different kind of sport I am thinking about. A kind of sport that is developing, in its quite specific way, into a force for integration within Europe. It lends impetus to that integration through cross-border encounters between individuals dedicated to sport.

Over the last few weeks, mass sport has focussed on a number of concrete initiatives. The 20th TAFISA World Congress was held at Buenos Aires in September, attracting about 150 participants from more than 50 nations on all continents. As I have been told by people who were present – it was possible for important decisions be taken at this Congress about the direction in which mass sport will develop around the globe. We are seeing an upward trend, for which TAFISA and its renowned experts have been working with great success for decades.

I would very much like to use the opportunity offered by this Forum in Riga to thank all the organisers and activists who work so energetically for mass sport in their own countries for the magnificent dedication they display! I would now like to turn to the “international dimension of sport”. The 2nd TAFISA World Forum should stimulate action that has an impact across national borders – and especially throughout the European Union.

I want to emphasise this point for the benefit of the politicians among us here today: Anyone who wants to build and strengthen a Europe of citizens should regard sport as a driving force and proactively make use of the social and cultural activities it helps to foster.

It is not sport that needs to catch up with the rest of Europe. It was already well aware of its ability to unite different nations decades ago – particularly in Europe – and anchored this goal in its competitive and social calendars in a variety of ways.

This is illustrated by the amazing variety of championships and cups to be won in sports of all kinds. Not to mention the innumerable cross-border community programmes that support youth sport and mass sport. Sports clubs and governing bodies started bringing people together very early on in their history. There can be no doubt that these organisations were doing pioneering work to build bridges in Europe at a time when the political agenda was still dominated by economic cooperation. Only later did cultural and social aspects come to complement the process of European integration. Even then, sport was still criminally neglected by politics.

When we take stock of the situation in sport today, we find that the correct conclusions have been drawn from all the years during which it was ignored. Sport has gone onto the offensive! Whether we look at our policies for young people, families or old people, at our health systems or the social sector, at environmental activism, the arts or peacebuilding measures: the contribution made by sport speaks for itself.

We now have to drive ahead our common efforts to create a practical framework for organised sport in Europe. Despite all the independence and autonomy of the various governing bodies, there is still much to be done at the European level. And the biggest grassroots movement on the continent will have a crucial influence on this process. For sport is certainly one of the most reliable and purposeful movements contributing to the creation of a Europe of citizens!

European mass sport is a fertile field. It was already being cultivated at a time when common political strategies, ideas about European unification and even European currency initiatives were still regarded as the utopian fantasies of a handful of dreamers. We will therefore not be breaking new ground if we use this year’s German Olympic Sport Federation conference on Sport for All to highlight the areas of sport policy and social policy in which mass sport is a factor and how we could bundle its contributions more efficiently. Our aim should be to exploit the opportunities that mass sport offers in the process of European unification even more effectively in future, while identifying the risks that may arise and taking appropriate action to avoid them.

In any case, we can be justifiably proud that Europe is the continent where modern mass sport was invented! The gymnastics movement was founded here as the first incarnation of a grassroots exercise culture. It was not the best, but the masses who flocked to the gymnastics movement almost 200 years ago in Germany. The sports badges held by 25 million people in Germany for a range of different sports were conceived in Sweden almost 100 years ago.

The Volkslauf community runs and the Vita Parcours exercise trails, both of which have been big mass sport hits in Germany, came from Switzerland 50years ago. Incidentally, the first Challenge Day did not take place in Canada, but was held in 1940 as a competition between Finland and Sweden to see which country had the biggest proportion of its population taking part actively in sport.

The TRIMM fitness scheme was born in Norway and made its great breakthrough in Germany. Italy’s mass sport showcases are its Vivicitta events, when large numbers of people take part in runs through the country’s major cities.

Urban walking has been given a new lease of life in Ireland. France has more sports clubs per head of its population than any other European country, and the French have also adopted and translated our German slogan, “Sport is best in a club”.

Apart from this, there are a number of facts that illuminate the standing of sport in the EU: - A Europe-wide survey found that Europeans hold sport in high regard. Four out of five people assigned sport great significance in communication between cultures. 80 percent of Europeans prize sport’s capacity to improve our physical and mental health. Three-quarters of the people surveyed felt that sport should be given more attention in school curriculums. 68 percent thought that the EU should promote education through sport more actively.

  • Sport is the biggest grassroots movement in Europe. There are about 700,000 sports clubs and governing bodies in the EU with more than 100 million members between them. One in three Europeans takes part in amateur sport or works as a sporting volunteer. It is also of interest as a growing economic factor. According to a study carried out by the European Commission, the number of jobs directly or indirectly dependant on sport has risen by 60 % over the last ten years to two million.
  • According to another study carried out by the European Commission, sports clubs are the most attractive kind of organisation for young people in Europe. Almost one third of all European young people between the ages of 15 and 25 meet their peers in sports clubs.
  • Anyone who is striving for a “Europe of citizens” cannot, and must not, disregard the whole infrastructure of sport. I regret that no stronger emphasis on sport was made in the reform treaty.

What is decisive is that:

  • Europe still plays first fiddle in the concert of the major players in mass sport.
  • And, furthermore, that mass sport culture develops through multilateral international exchange.

Widespread exchange always takes place between European countries where there are already bilateral cooperative arrangements in place. To date, there have been no Sport for All measures that have been supported by all the European countries, merely the more or less successful introduction of the European Athletics Diploma, the declarations from the Council of Europe and the European Sport Conference, which are small milestones in the right direction.

For a long time, though, mass sport in Europe has also been encouraging full-blown sport tourism at all levels. It is many years since national borders represented an obstacle to anyone who wanted to take part in a sporting event in another part of Europe. The spectrum of opportunities people are able to take advantage of extends from cycle touring to community runs, from seniors championships to amateur football and volleyball tournaments.

The range of sporting holidays on offer, which give people from different countries the chance to get to know each other through sport, has also expanded in the last few years. These links even functioned early on across the dividing line between the Eastern and Western Blocs. So today, when we are vigorously pushing ahead the construction of our common “European House”, we should also remember how sporting elements can help to strengthen and stabilise the structures we build. Sport already possesses networks unparalleled in other fields of activity, from the elite level down to club-based activities.

Nevertheless, we have to ask ourselves what we can do in future at the level of the governing bodies responsible for different sports to contribute to the success of the process of European unification. And how our own work an benefit from the process of European nification. In order to give answers to these questions, we must irst clarify a few central issues:

  1. Are we actually speaking the same language when we talk about mass sport nd Europe? Is the term mass sport one that can be used at the European level as well?
  2. Do we need a coordinated position for mass sport in the European context? If so, what form should it take? What advantages could this have for us?
  3. Do we need formal or informal procedures or instruments in order to ensure there are transfers of knowledge between countries, so helping us to benefit from what has been learned in other places?
  4. Would it be justified for European cooperation to be made a higher priority than in the past?

This would, by the same token, raise the question of the organisational arrangements, staffing levels and financial structures that would be needed. Which is why I am glad that, with the establishment of its European regional organisation, ESFAN (European Sport for All Network), TAFISA has already put in place an important precondition for such cooperation.

In order to make sure Europe continues to recognise the significance of mass sport and underline its exemplary function, I would like to draw on my many years of political experience in giving TAFISA the following recommendations:

  • TAFISA should take on a leading role in the Europewide development, organisation and promotion of significant mass sport projects aimed at achieving health goals and getting older people to take exercise, the promotion of volunteer work and campaigning.
  • It should establish and expand European networks.
  • It should provide advice and support for its member organisations as they develop and supervise their own schemes.
  • It should promote European programmes all over the world if there is demonstrably international demand for them. This applies in particular to programmes in the field of sport for health – where Europe has traditionally been very strong.
  • It should hold European congresses, seminars and events.

Recent developments have confirmed once again in an impressive fashion that the idea of Sport for All is not just gaining ground in Europe, but all over the world!

Much has now been achieved:

  • More than 150 countries around the world have declared their support for the goal of Sport for All.
  • Approximately 100 countries are running national campaigns.
  • For many years now, it has not just been the industrialised countries that are involved – the enthusiasm for sport has spread much more widely.
  • In consequence, more than a billion people around the world currently participate in sport.
  • And an estimated 250 million people are taking part in sport across Europe this very day.

Mutual encouragement and exchange programmes have important functions, and not just within Europe. Europe itself has demonstrably played a key role in the worldwide development of Sport for All. And for me this is where we come full circle. We have a responsibility to carry on promoting the idea of European unification. But nor must we forget that the initiatives we take send out signals about the worldwide development of Sport for All.

Which also opens up opportunities to position Europe globally not just at the level of elite sport but also at the level of mass sport. However, this should not be a oneway street, for our work – your work – should benefit from it as well. That could be one message to come out of this Forum, and it is something we definitely need to keep in mind, especially in the debates and discussions that will be taking place over the next two days. Thank you for your attention!