How do we get Europeans to #BeActive?

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2019-09-24 Yves Le Lostecque

I’m sure we all agree that sport is special. It provides common ground for people from different backgrounds and aspirations to meet and interact on an equal basis, respecting the same rules. Sport can bring a sense of well-being and personal fulfilment to everyone, no matter what their social or economic background. It is therefore a valuable tool for a healthy and active lifestyle and for social inclusion, helping to address the challenges of European society today.

According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for poor health. Yet, a recent Eurobarometer survey on sport and physical activity revealed some worrying figures: nearly half of EU citizens say they never exercise or play sport. This means that many people in Europe still do not realise the positive impact sport can have on their physical and psychological well-being; the fact that they don’t is a huge cost for society as a whole – just think about national health budgets.  

The European Week of Sport is a response to this challenge.

In addition, we must consider that around 75% of the population in the EU are living in urban areas, adopting urban lifestyles. They are using city and sport facilities and infrastructures to practice sport and physical activity. The crucial role of cities in promoting healthy lifestyles and physical activity is therefore obvious.

The EU has a role to play too: addressing the low levels of physical inactivity, and unhealthy lifestyles in general, is one of the main priorities for the EU in the field of sport. Sport and health have systematically been included as one of the priorities in the EU Work Plans for Sport, which defines the cooperation at EU level in the field of sport.

Changing the environments in which people live, to make them more favourable to be naturally physically active, will not happen from one day to the next. A myriad of actors need to be involved to have a chance of success. Increasing the level of physical activity in the population falls within the remit of several important sectors, most with a major public sector component (e.g. Sport, Health, Education, Transport, environment, urban planning and public safety, working environment, Services for senior citizens). While a lot of research is going on, effective and efficient interventions to make people more physically active already exist. It is now increasingly important to implement existing and working interventions. The EU can play a very useful role, notably through the promotion and sharing of good practices between EU countries, and with interested parties.

This year, the European Commission is organising the fifth edition of “The European Week of Sport”, an initiative to promote sport and physical activity across Europe. The overarching campaign theme is "#BeActive", encouraging everyone to be active during the Week but to also stay active all year long.

The European Week of Sport is a genuinely European initiative. Its beauty is that initiatives at European, national and local level blend in a very special way. It is the result of effective and enthusiastic cooperation between individuals and organisations from all over the continent, well beyond the borders of the European Union: the 5th annual Week will be the biggest ever - with 47 partner associations in 42 countries and regions from Portugal to Ukraine, from Finland to Malta. Last year, 13 million participants took part in 50,000 events. As sports enthusiasts, we aim to beat that record in 2019.

The Week is about sport for all: regardless of age, background or fitness level, everyone can find something to help build a healthier lifestyle. An impressive variety of activities will be organised during the Week with the help of our Partners: from open water swims in the Tagus River to salsa classes in the centre of London; from non-competitive runs across cities to the installation of high performance recyclable vinyl in the colours of the European flag in the very heart of Europe, in Brussels, where citizens will be able to test different disciplines.

And then, of course, we have the official opening in Espoo, where thousands of school children had the opportunity to #BeActive and try different sports. Our #BeActive Night - a unique European flagship event, aimed at showing the fun of being active with thousands of people across Europe - will be held on Saturday, 28 September.

The European Week of Sport is supported by the Erasmus + programme which has increased funding for projects promoting physical activity. The ultimate goal is increased participation in sport with a guarantee of equal access for all. In 2019 we are providing co-funding of around 49 million euro to some 250 European sports projects. 

I am confident that financial opportunities for sport will increase substantially under the new Erasmus programme, and I look forward to more events and initiatives like the one organised in Espoo in the years to come.

Yves Le Lostecque

Yves Le Lostecque
Head of Sport Unit, European Commission