13th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers Responsible for Sport
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be with you here in Macolin to mark the opening of the 13th Conference of Ministers responsible for Sport.
I would like to start by thanking Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer and the Swiss authorities for hosting this Ministerial Conference in such beautiful and sport-friendly surroundings.
As the home to so many international sports organisations, Switzerland plays a very special role with sports governance and is an active member of our intergovernmental network in the area of sport.
For the Council of Europe, our priorities in the field of sport go hand in hand with the wider priorities of our Organisation.
They have a direct impact on the implementation of the Council of Europe’s core values: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The high number of sports ministers attending today demonstrates your consensus that these values need to be experienced and owned by society as a whole.
This is because sport is a unique tool to promote the values that we hold so dear.
It is a unique tool to educate future generations about their rights and responsibilities.
The essence of sport is grounded in diversity, respect and tolerance for oneself and for others.
It is based on fair competition between participants played to an agreed set of rules.
This is something that is just as important off the field, in day to day life.
We should not underestimate the power of sport.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, sport has the power to change the world.
Sport has the power to inspire.
It speaks to youth in a language they understand.
It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.
Take football for example.
The World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina this year was watched by over a billion people across the world.
For as long as most us can remember, footballers such as Pele, Messi, Ronaldo and – in my case – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, have had the power to inspire and move people across the world, both young and old.
This extraordinary popularity gives great responsibilities to sportsman as well as those tasked with governing sport.
Through the rules we set, the Council of Europe contributes to better governance of sports, with the aim of making sport more fair and more transparent.
The rules help ensure that sport conforms to high ethical standards.
With this in mind, our Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport, the EPAS, provides a valuable platform for intergovernmental sports co-operation and for dialogue between public authorities and the sports movement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This Conference will address the issue of the risk of corruption in the governance of sport.
Without a doubt, corruption is one of the key challenges confronting Europe.
A constant flow of corruption allegations and scandals has eroded institutional credibility in a number of member States, stoking public disillusionment and significant social and political tension.
Consider these statistics.
According to the 2014 Eurobarometer survey, 76% of people in EU countries think that corruption is widespread.
As many as 56% think that the level of corruption in their country has increased over the past three years.
The fight against corruption therefore needs to be about cementing core values within our societies.
Values such as integrity.
Such as fairness and transparency.
The prevention and control of corruption, including the question of political finances, remains a priority for the Council of Europe and for its Group of States against Corruption, GRECO.
I take this opportunity to once again call on all countries to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Council of Europe’s tools and mechanisms to prevent corruption from undermining our societies and fundamental values.
This, of course, includes the field of sports.
Sport, as has been widely reported in the media, is far from immune from corruption.
We all read about the raft of scandals relating to corruption and manipulation in sport, particularly in football.
Corruption and match-fixing are the ugly side of the beautiful game.
Not only does match-fixing affect and jeopardise the integrity of our sport, it also destroys its image, harms the social, educational and cultural values of the game and attacks its economic and social role.
These threats must not be underestimated.
The sports world has done a lot to strengthen its governance structures and to prevent and sanction such misbehaviour.
However, there is still much more that we can do to bring together governments and sport organisations in order to tackle this issue.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The task ahead of us is an ambitious one.
It involves ensuring that appropriate rules are in place.
It will ensure that everything we do is transparent, that our decisions benefit our sport and that those who do not play by the rules are sanctioned.
Making this a reality will require providing European public authorities with the capacity to speak with one voice.
The Council of Europe, as the guardian of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, is the most appropriate intergovernmental platform to help facilitate this.
It is our role to complete the European legal space through the system of international conventions with their monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
We also have a wealth of experience in promoting productive dialogue with civil society in general, and the sport movements in particular.
It therefore gives me great pride to announce that the newly-adopted Convention on the manipulation of sports competitions will be opened for signatures immediately after the closing of this Conference this evening.
This opening for signature is an important step.
For two years now, since the Belgrade Ministerial Conference in 2012, the Council of Europe, within the framework of a drafting group set up by EPAS, has been drawing up this Convention.
The adoption of the Convention has demonstrated the capacity of EPAS to swiftly respond to public challenges.
It also recognises that the manipulation of sports competitions is a trans-national threat.
That is why one of the key objectives of the Council of Europe Convention is to facilitate national co-ordination and international co-operation.
The Convention will also address preventive measures and education.
It will address the exchange of information, co-operation between betting operators, sports organisations and public authorities.
It will also address the prosecution of offenders both by criminal law and disciplinary proceedings.
We cannot win this battle alone.
In order to guarantee that the true values of sport prevail, we must recognize that corruption and match-fixing are an international phenomenon, which cannot be addressed at regional level only.
It is also for this reason that accession to the Convention is not limited to Council of Europe member States only, but is also open for accession for any state.
Already during the negotiation process, which was open to any interested state, countries from all continents participated actively.
I am pleased to see many of these states present here today, including Belarus, Israel, Japan and Morocco.
Looking ahead, it is also in our joint interest to strengthen co-operation between the EU and the Council of Europe, so that we prevent overlaps or conflicting activities.
By working together, we have achieved a lot in the last two years.
The EU played an active role in the negotiation of the Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions.
It is therefore a great pleasure to be able to welcome, for the first time to a Council of Europe Conference for Sports Ministers, the European Commissioner, Mrs Vassiliou,
I hope that soon I will have the pleasure to welcome the EU signature to the new Convention.
I am also pleased to see Sir Craig Reedie with us today, the Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee and President of the WADA.
It gives me great pride that Europe has greatly contributed to the development of the new World Anti-Doping Code.
It is my hope that this Conference will help to address the issue of implementation of the new Code and reflect on European public authorities’ representation in the Executive Committee for 2015.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me conclude by thanking a few more people, whose contribution was crucial in making our new Convention a reality.
I would like to thank all those involved in the preparation of this instrument.
This includes the Chair of the drafting group, Harri Syväsalmi, who is with us today, as well as the Vice Chairs and delegates.
I would also like to thank the sports movement, betting operators and international partner organisations for their advice and support to the development of this instrument.
Together, we have come a long way.
The adoption of the Convention by our Committee of Ministers, on 9 July in Strasbourg, was the concluding step in the preparation of this instrument.
Today, the first signatures will kick-off this new set of rules and the framework of co-operation to address match fixing.
It is my hope that it also kicks-off a new era in sport.
An era rooted firmly in fairness and integrity.
I invite governments to make all the possible efforts to sign and ratify the Convention, and to permit its rapid entry into force.
Let us not forget that the call for the elaboration of this instrument from the sports movement was pressing.
But we managed to deliver rapidly.
Now the ball is in your court.
As representatives of the highest level of authorities in charge of sport in your countries you have a key role to play in addressing these issues of common interest.
I invite you to use the opportunity of today’s conference to share experience and good practices.
But also to discuss common challenges and, perhaps most importantly, to find ways for us to progress even further.
I wish you all good luck and fruitful discussions.