Executive Director’s Blog – The EU & the Olympic Games

Sports fanatics are having quite the summer with the 2016 Euros and other major international events.  Our next dose of large-scale summer sporting entertainment will begin next Friday, when the Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With more than 10,000 athletes competing and an expected potential worldwide audience of 4.8 billion, these games are set to be the largest and most thrilling yet. In this month’s column, we examine what the Olympics and sports in general mean for the European Union.  

The member states of the European Union, including Ireland, have a long and proud affiliation with the Olympic Games, enjoying great success throughout the decades. Indeed, had the EU competed as a single entity at the 2012 London Olympics, it would have topped the leader board with a total of 306 medals, including 92 Golds, beating the record of 280 medals it set at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Increasingly in recent years, we have witnessed the EU implementing measures which seek to merge Europeans’ love of sport with the Union’s overall objectives.

Sport is among the largest social phenomena in the EU, with almost 60% of the European population engaging in sporting or other physical activities on a regular basis. Aside from the natural health benefits that such engagement can induce, there are several social and economic benefits to be enjoyed too. Sport helps to build communities and foster inclusion between people of all ages, genders, nationalities and social background, while mitigating the alienation of minority groups,

Cultivating this sense of togetherness at a grassroots level has an aim of the EU through its Erasmus+ programme, which has seen almost €38 million granted to local sporting organisations throughout the EU in a bid to develop sporting amenities and encourage participation. Ireland is set to receive at least €11.63m over the coming 5 years. Such investments also see the added benefit of stimulating job creation, as well as urban and regional development.

While participating in sport can bring great happiness, so too can simply watching it. As Irish Olympians, such as Cork’s duo of Sonia O’Sullivan and Rob Heffernan, or more recently the Irish soccer team at Euro 2016 have shown, individual or team success can unite a country under a feel-good sense of national pride.

The hosting of major sporting events can also generate important effects at both national and European levels. Since 1992, EU member states have hosted 3 Olympic Games, with the cities of Barcelona (1992), Athens (2004) and London (2012) each enjoying economic benefits, and a strengthening of image and reputation. In a report published by the Federation of Irish Sport in 2014, it was found that 35% of people surveyed believed that that the Olympics had made the UK a more attractive place to do business, while 44% believed it had a greater influence in European affairs. With this in mind it should come as no surprise to see 3 EU cities compete for the right to host the 2024 Olympics, with Paris, Rome and Budapest among the candidates.

In the coming years we will see sport continue to increasingly grow in significance in the EU’s development policy agenda, and as such, the Olympics, as the pinnacle of the sporting calendar, will become an important partner of the EU. Already we have seen links established between the EU and the European Olympics Committee (EOC), which will hopefully further enhance EU member states success at the Olympics for decades to come.

From all here at European Movement Ireland, we wish every success to the Irish Olympic team.

This blog post is an edited version of our Executive Director Noelle O Connell’s monthly column in the Cork Evening Echo. 

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