Members of the Committee,
Ladies and gentlemen,
COVID-19 has encroached on nearly every aspect of life in Europe.
Families, communities and economies are struggling to come to terms with what has happened, what is continuing to happen, and how best we can rebuild our societies as we emerge at the other end.
In a public health crisis like this, the benefits of sport are even more apparent.
Sport helps us maintain our mental health and well-being, especially in times of strain and stress;
Sport keeps us fitter and more resilient should we become ill;
And sport provides us with an escape.
Often, this is the sheer pleasure and exhilaration that comes from competing or watching, including these current days when we are glued to the television watching entertaining football games, such as last night between Denmark and the Russian Federation.
But sometimes it also means people – especially children - having the important opportunity to escape from situations of neglect, bullying or abuse.
Yes, sports are about leisure and entertainment.
But they are also about health and survival.
Yet, like so many other aspects of life, sports have suffered since the onset of the coronavirus.
Participation is a case in point.
Lockdowns, the closure of facilities, the end of team training, and social distancing rules have all been necessary.
But they have also resulted in a general decline in physical activity that began early last year, and which has not returned to its pre-confinement levels.
It varies somewhat from country to country, but studies show that while all groups within society have been less active, young people have lost out most.
Commercial and professional sports have suffered also.
Major events have been cancelled.
Clubs, teams and others who rely on revenue from ticketing, advertising and television rights have seen those takings drop significantly.
And this has thrown the future of staff and facilities into doubt.
Most countries have rightly taken special measures to help prevent far-reaching and irreversible damage.
But financial support varies from country to country and as restrictions ease, these measures are being lifted.
So, today we cannot know the full and final impact.
Mr Carlos Goncalves’ report is right to look at these aspects.
And let us hope that the worse predictions do not come to pass.
But it is also right – indeed, it is always right – to look for the opportunities to support a healthy environment for sports moving forward.
For individual participation, there are signs of positive trends.
Since the beginning of this crisis, sports organisations, local authorities and gyms have been creative, and promoted such things as distance training programmes.
And there is evidence that this has actually increased the amount of exercise being taken by parts of the population that used to do less.
So, programmes like this should certainly be factored into future sports policies.
Similarly, many people have wanted to avoid the use of public transport.
The number of people getting to and from work on foot, or by bike, has therefore gone up.
And this has been helped by many communities opening new cycle paths, walkways and pedestrian areas, which should be maintained moving forward.
More broadly, I think it is right that the economic support plans which follow the current crisis should invest in active-friendly environments and sports facilities that benefit grassroots sport.
There is of course a bigger picture here about how governments and sports organisations make the best choices and the best sports policies possible in the months and years ahead.
This requires political leadership.
And the Council of Europe has already been playing its part.
Take for example, the European Partial Agreement on Sports (EPAS), as well as our Standing Committee of the European Convention on Spectator Violence;
And our new Committee on Safety and Security at Sports Events.
These have advised states parties to adopt a co-ordinated, integrated and multi-agency approach, supporting one another and sharing good practice in these unprecedented times;
And, in the same spirit, the Monitoring Group to our Anti-Doping Convention has worked with governments and national anti-doping agencies to find solutions to meet new COVID-related challenges.
Alongside the World Anti-Doping Agency and others, this has helped bring the number of doping samples back up, after they collapsed last year, but still with some countries unable to take any samples at all.
In addition, our Network of national platforms and our Macolin Committee are engaging with public authorities, sports organisations and the betting industry to help detect, combat and sanction any manipulation of sports competitions that might arise from loss of income under COVID-restrictions.
All of this is vital to ensure fair, clean competition which inspires public trust.
So, what next?
We will move forward, promoting the standards and policies that lead to good governance and safe, ethical and inclusive practice.
And in this, EPAS, our Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport, plays a crucial role.
A unique, intergovernmental body that brings together 40 member states, EPAS provides a platform for co-operation at the political and technical levels, and on the development of policies and standards.
It does this in all circumstances – good or bad – including those that we face now.
The revised European Sports Charter envisaged for later this year will also help the Organisation to keep pace with the challenges we face.
The Charter again, will be monitored and implemented by EPAS.
And the commitment to a “right to sport” will feature in it, just as it did in the resolution of last year’s Conference of Ministers responsible for sport.
And all of this will underpin the guidance we provide on boosting sports policies in the post-COVID era.
I believe this Committee is right to be concerned for the future of Sport, and to see the Council of Europe as pivotal to sports that are fair, diverse and accessible. And we also have a particular role when it comes to human rights and sport.
We have the tools with which to make progress, and we have clearly defined priorities for the next four years. So let’s get to it.
By working together, I have no doubt that we will succeed.
Thank you for your attention.