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Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

12th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers
responsible for sports
Belgrade, Serbia, 15 March 2012
 

Deputy Prime Minister,
Ministers,
Member of the Parliamentary Assembly,
President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
 

It is my great pleasure to be in Belgrade to open the 12th Conference of Ministers responsible for sports. Serbia is one of the foremost and long-standing supporters of the Council of Europe’s intergovernmental work in the field of sport, and I would like to thank Mrs Verica Kalanović, Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Ivana Kovacevic, State Secretary of the Republic of Serbia, and the Serbian authorities for hosting this Ministerial Conference. I would also like to thank of course MsSnežana Samardžić-Marković, who has been so instrumental in the preparation of this event.

 

 
This Conference falls at an important sporting moment for Europe, with the London Olympic and Paralympic games this summer and the UEFA Euro championship being hosted by Poland and Ukraine in June. Alongside these wonderful opportunities, however, in recent months, we have seen scandals around corruption and other threats to sport hitting the headlines. With these opportunities and challenges before us, we all understand why the topics which we will discuss today are high on the agenda of many member States, as well as international organisations such as the Council of Europe, and associations and other representatives of the sporting world.
 
This is not to say that the issues we will be discussing today only arise in the context of high level sport events: unfortunately bad practices are wide-spread at all levels of sport, amateur as well as professional, local as well as international, and most alarmingly - hitting young sports people from an early age.
 
My own close interest in the area of sport in the work of the Council of Europe was borne of my belief that sport, although it may at a cursory first sight seem somewhat distant from the human rights agenda we deal with in the Council of Europe, in fact is a prime example of a topic which touches so many of our citizens closely in their daily lives, and which demonstrates an intersection between many of the values and concerns of the Council of Europe. 
 
 
For sport is a real “playing field” for our values of human rights, human dignity, social cohesion and democracy. This is not just an idealised vision: sport can and should be a source of inspiration for life. The determination to give the best of oneself, to overcome obstacles, to meet with others, in inclusive settings, to share a passion – all these are the hallmarks of sport at its best.   Sport brings together women and men, young and old, people from different ethnic, social and religious backgrounds, people with disabilities and those without. It brings together more experienced sportspeople – coaches, sporting associations and fellow sportspersons – with young talents, through training and mentoring stemming from a wish to give something back through involvement in the voluntary sector. This is what sport should be about – human endeavour, shared values and a shared ethical approach which recognises the role of sport in society.  
 
From this perspective, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that sport can be viewed as one of the building blocks of a Europe based on democracy, human rights and social cohesion.
 
This is where the Council of Europe, along with other international organisations and in partnership with sports associations, must play a role in combating negative trends.   The Council of Europe has worked for many years on ensuring equality and non-discrimination in sport, through its work on combating racism, on gender equality and gender mainstreaming, and on access to sport for people with disabilities.
 
On the question of women in sport, for example, we organised last autumn in London, in co-operation with European Women in Sport, a Conference which is now serving as a springboard for new activities on this topic. I hope that sport will become an exemplary area in which our efforts to mainstream the gender dimension will bring tangible results.
 
We have also built up a strong experience and recognised expertise in dealing with many emerging trends, including the fight against violence in sport and against illegal doping, and have developed legal instruments in these areas. 
 
 

Match-fixing and illegal betting

 

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Our value-based vision of sport is increasingly threatened by pressures which ultimately may encroach upon another of our key values: that of the rule of law.
 
A threat which is increasingly in the spotlight is that of match fixing and illegal betting, and here too we have started working with member States and our international partners to identify responses. This topic will be the main focus of our discussions today, building on work already started at the Athens Conference in 2008 and the Baku Conference in 2010.
 
Match-fixing is an issue of concern for many countries, faced with the huge growth of sports betting, mostly due to technological developments which have introduced wide-scale and global online betting.   Of course, betting in itself is generally legal and the industry highly-regulated, but illegal practices to manipulate results are gaining ground, and gaining visibility. 
 
We all know that several European countries have recently been the scene of high-profile scandals involving bribery in sports, and such high-profile cases may only be the tip of the iceberg.  Public authorities, the sports movements, and indeed legal betting operators, are now increasingly aware of the need to work in partnership to control these phenomena. 
 
That is why I am pleased that our Partial Agreement on Sport, EPAS, has worked so closely with the relevant stakeholders from the sporting and betting worlds to prepare the ground for the recommendation on the promotion of the integrity of sport against manipulation of results, notably match-fixing, adopted by our Committee of Ministers last September.
 
In this Recommendation, the Committee of Minister invited EPAS to “carry out a feasibility study […] on a possible international legal instrument that covers all aspects of prevention and the combat against the manipulation of sports results”. This is the background to the feasibility study which will be presented to you today. 
 
I would like to draw your attention in particular to a number of key challenges which were identified in this process:
 
Firstly, it is clear that actions and measures to address manipulation of sports results require a multi-stakeholder approach to be successful. We are advocating international co-ordination, involving sports and betting expertise, from public and private sectors, as well as law enforcement capacities.
 
Such a multi-stakeholder approach is crucial given the nature of this phenomenon.   For match-fixing and illegal betting are, as I have already stressed, threats to the rule of law. They involve corruption, extortion and organised crime. Public authorities therefore have the duty to combat them, both nationally and internationally. At the same time, there is no question that the autonomy or independence of the sports world should be brought into question, and this is why I am so pleased at the fruitful partnerships with the sporting authorities which we have already put in place. 
 
Indeed, this spirit of partnership and openness has been fully-reflected during the preparatory stages of work so far. 
 
Within the Council of Europe itself, EPAS co-ordinated the preparation of the Committee of Ministers Recommendation, while benefiting greatly from the specialised expertise of bodies and experts in criminal law and data protection, as well as those in charge of fighting corruption and money laundering. Our Parliamentary Assembly, under the guidance of its excellent Rapporteur on this topic, Ms Anne Brasseur, has also played an active role in putting this issue high on the agenda.
 
All the relevant stakeholders, including governments, the sport movements, European institutions and betting operators have been involved in the preparation and consultation process, which is a clear sign of the transversal co-operation and willingness to find responses.
 
The essential step today is about agreeing upon, co-ordinating and strengthening a general framework to fight match-fixing.
 
As the issue is a worldwide one, any proposed legal instrument should be open to non-European countries as well as to our member States.
I believe that the Council of Europe can play a pioneering role on this topic while demonstrating its openness to co-operation and involvement of all interested regions and countries. 
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
The member States of EPAS have demonstrated their determination and constructive willingness to take a lead on the topic of match-fixing over the past months, and I very much hope that you will be able to take the necessary next steps forward today.
 
 

Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union on sports issues

 

 
Let me turn now to the second political issue on your agenda today, namely co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union in the field of sport.
 
Following the Memorandum of Understanding adopted in May 2007 between the two organisations, and particularly over the last two years, regular and close relations at the highest level have been established, reflecting the firm commitment of our political leaderships to work as equal partners. 
 
In the field of sport, the recent entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty provides the EU with a competence in sport and calls for co-operation with the Council of Europe.   It is clear to me that the two institutions can only benefit if we join our forces and expertise to work together, both in the areas covered by Council of Europe conventions – namely the conventions on anti-doping and on spectator violence, and in the field of sports policies, which are dealt with by EPAS.  
I know that our member States are eager to promote this co-operation, which I have discussed on a number of occasions with Commissioner Vassiliou. I am sure that this Ministerial Conference will allow us to further build on this basis, especially in the light of the forthcoming programme on sports being developed by the European Union, and where I see a strong scope for partnership on projects.  
 
 

Convention on spectator violence

 

 
The third issue on your agenda is the strengthening of the monitoring capacities of the Spectator Violence Convention. I would especially like to thank Serbia for its work in starting reflections on this topic. The standing committee has held an exchange of views on the future of the convention and suggested various prospects, including strengthening the safety and security of spectators in sports events, streamlining its recommendations, strengthening its co-operation with the sports movement and developing its monitoring tools to better address situations where quick advice is needed in critical situations. We are very pleased to be working also with UEFA on this topic. Your position on these proposals will allow us to move forward. 
Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
“Sport for all” is a well-known slogan, and I wish to conclude by stressing that the conference is for you all, representatives of member States, of states Parties to the European Cultural Convention, of international organisations, and of the sporting world, including betting operators for the discussions on match-fixing. 
 
It is my hope that this ministerial meeting will provide another step forward on each of the issues on your agenda, and that we will make here in Belgrade our own contribution to 2012 as a great year for sport in Europe and in the world.  
 
Thank you for your attention.