Discrimination in European amateur sport: the MATCH-SPORT state-of-the art study

Paris, France, January 2021 – As part of the MATCH-SPORT European project, Efus, together with the project partners, led a state-of-the-art study on the degree of awareness of discriminatory violence in amateur sport and on existing prevention schemes in several European countries. Encompassing European, national and local levels of governance across seven countries, the study highlights the areas that needed targeting through the project’s local actions and takes stock of existing resources across the various levels of governance.

Growing awareness in the European Union on the inclusive dimension of amateur sport

Up until the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, the European Union had no specific competence in the area of sport. Building on the Pierre de Coubertin Action Plan (which set the basis for the first EU strategy on sport), the Treaty allows the EU to promote or complement actions carried out in the framework of Member States’ internal policies. The first two paragraphs of Article 165 are particularly interesting because they define actions that the EU did carry out afterwards: they highlight the importance of sport’s “educational and social role” and state the EU’s commitment to “develop the European dimension of sport” (as confirmed by the January 2011 European Commission’s Communication). Furthermore, they encourage Member States to “promote sport’s fairness and openness” and to “protect sport practitioner’s physical and moral integrity.”

Two action plans on sport

These documents establish a legal basis for the EU’s financial and structural support to national sport policies, which later evolved into action programmes such as the Erasmus+ funding scheme and the European Week of Sport. Furthermore, it allowed the European Union to further develop its sport policy through two actions plans (2014-2017 and 2017-2020). The most recent one recognises the need to strengthen sport’s governance mechanisms in order to make them more inclusive and highlights the role of coaches, club managers and referees in this effort.

Awareness and actions in the different Member States

Along with the evolution of the EU’s institutional framework, the Member States became over the years increasingly aware of the importance of sport as a means to strengthen social inclusion, but also of issues such discriminatory violence of all types. At first, they focused on football, notably professional football, and on racism. Indeed, this issue is taken all the more seriously that it draws media coverage and affects a sport that is hugely popular in Europe. But later on, Member States implemented schemes that contribute to combat all kinds of discriminatory violence, in all sports and in both the professional and amateur fields.

Four types of schemes at the national level

Regarding the national level of governance, we classified schemes and actions into four categories: the adoption of a national code of ethics for sport (such as the ones adopted by Portugal in 2014 and France in 2012); new regulation (at first centred on hooliganism and more recently broadened to hate crime); the implementation of prevention strategies (for example through the establishment of national specialised agencies or the publication of guidelines for regional federations), and, lastly, awareness campaigns (such as UNAR’s Action Week Against Racism and This Girl Can do Sport England). All these schemes seek in one way or another to frame or support local strategies, given that the local level of governance knows best the local issues at hand and is the best placed to promote the prevention of discriminatory violence in amateur sport.

Local actors: varying degrees of awareness

For the local level, we focused on two questions: What tools are used to measure the frequency and impact of discriminatory behaviours? What is the local actors’ level of awareness on the issue?

Regarding the measure of discriminatory incidents in amateur sport, the survey shows that, generally speaking, the collection of raw data is difficult. One of the main reasons is that there is no precise and universal definition of what constitutes a discriminatory incident. This means that data collection is from the start biased because it depends on the person who is tasked with qualifying the incident. Secondly, there is no standardised data collecting method that would allow comparisons between data. This leads to either an over- or an under-representation of some sport disciplines, which have their own data collection method (as is often the case in football federations). Thirdly, some sports do not invest in a standardised data collection method because they do not want to draw public attention – whether from parents or the media – on incidents that could affect the clubs’ membership rate.

Questions on the use and capitalisation of data

Also linked to the question of data collection is that of their use and capitalisation, which is problematic. Broadly speaking, the collected data are not useful in practice for local sport clubs and associations. They are meant for regional and national governments with a view to inform the evolution of public policies rather than to be used as a basis to strengthen the capacities of field actors, for example through training or awareness campaigns.

This has led the project partners to recommend the establishment of observatories on discriminatory violence in amateur sport that could agregate data collected from different sources (sport clubs, the police, the justice system) and produce practical and interesting tools for all the relevant actors and levels.

Different contexts that influence the level of awareness

Lastly, even though there is greater awareness among amateur sport stakeholders and local prevention schemes have been put in place, the study shows that the situation varies greatly depending on the country, region, city and club, the specific social and cultural mix, and the impact of the media.

Another factor is the culture of the club and how it considers discriminatory violence incidents. Indeed, some clubs consider them ‘normal’, a natural result of competitiveness, or a type of behaviour that is inherent to childhood/youth and hence should be tolerated.

Thirdly, we observed varying degrees of awareness not only among the different sport disciplines but also among the victims and the types of discrimination, which correspond to how society has evolved over the past few years. It is not exaggerated to say that society is in the main more aware of racism than of other types of discrimination such as homophobia because, among other factors, of the historic dimension of the fight against racism. 

The full version of the MATCH-SPORT state-of-the-art study will be published in the upcoming weeks on Efus Network and on the project’s web page

Leave a Reply