A recent survey on sport across Europe has raised a few eyebrows about the number of people who take part. The European Commission survey found that more men do sport than women and people in Northern Europe exercise more than in Southern countries. It also found that people cite health as the main reason for doing exercise. We put some questions to MEPs about the results of the survey and their attitude towards sport.
The survey says that that only 40% of Europeans do sport at least once a week, while 25% don't exercise at all. What are the socio-economic consequences of a "less sporty" population?
Irish MEP Sean Kelly said, "the headline socioeconomic consequence of a less sporty population is higher rates of obesity and related illnesses. This places an extra strain on our health services as they struggle to undo the damage caused by sedentary lifestyles."
The Member for the centre right European People's Party added, "more profoundly, physical activity and sport, especially team sports, leads to greater cohesion in society. To be involved in a sport is to be actively involved in one's community. The European Year of Volunteering in 2011 will offer a great opportunity to promote and highlight the broader benefits of sport to society."
"Regular exercise is an integral part of a genuine well-being and quality of life. Good physical condition harmonises the mind, and mental well-being further strengthens the body. Unfortunately, the general experience has shown that economic well-being brings along laziness - man becomes lazy not only mentally but also physically," according to Finnish Socialist Mitro Repo.
Greek Socialist Chrysoula Paliadeli said: "Being directly related to health, sport should be treated as a fundamental priority... the economic crisis is not an excuse for any member state or for any EU decision to diminish the funds for sport and its infrastructures. In the long run they will be faced with heavier economic consequences of a non- or less sporty society."
Italian MEP Iva Zanicchi (EPP): "Sport is important for civil society. Sport is a promoter of values that can also serve to better educate society. But families hit by the economic crisis had to cut some 'unnecessary' costs and perhaps in many cases it was decided to cancel the subscription of the gym or the swim club."
The survey shows that Northern Europeans do considerably more sports than Southern Europeans. Why do you think this is the case?
Sean Kelly: "I can only speak of the country I know best, Ireland, which has the highest rate of participation in physical activity in the EU. Sport in Ireland is characterised by a strong ethic of voluntarism and bottom-up organisation. Local communities in Ireland have not waited for the state to provide services and have gone about organising and funding their own facilities. This is typified by the Gaelic Athletic Association, the largest sporting and voluntary organisation in Ireland of which I am a former President!"
Mitro Repo: "The explanations to Scandinavian "sportiness" can be found both in history as well as in socio-geography. Northern Europe is sparsely populated and the distances are long. Throughout history, people have been forced to be on the move in order to survive. However, the results of the Commission survey should be assessed critically. For example, the Finns are also 'competing' to be the fattest people in the EU..."
Chrysoula Paliadeli: "It seems to me that being considered as a luxury, sport is expected to be exercised by people with higher revenues. Educated people are better informed about the importance of exercise for the physical and mental health. From this point of view the results of this specific survey seem quite logical.
"However, the kind of sports practiced in the North and the South of Europe should also be taken into consideration in such surveys, along with climate differences, which may affect the results."
Iva Zanicchi: "Maybe because people in Southern Europe are a little bit lazy... Jokes aside, it is clear that the Northern European countries promote sport more. In those countries, children begin to practice sport in elementary schools, and they continue in an even more serious way at the universities... In those countries the 'sports culture' is more rooted than in Southern Europe."
What can the EP and the EU do to encourage Europeans to do more sport?
Sean Kelly: "The European Parliament, with its new powers in this field under Lisbon, should put sport front and centre as a way of engaging with citizens and making its work relevant to the average sportsperson. The Parliament needs to connect with organisations at grass-roots level and not just focus on elite sports. Finally, as a concrete proposal, I think we should look at adding 'Sport' to the name of the Committee on Culture and Education - this would be a worthwhile acknowledgement that the Parliament takes sport seriously."
Mitro Repo: "I sincerely hope that the Culture Committee produces new ideas in this area, especially on how to encourage people to do more sport on a regular basis. In this respect, every MEP should lead the way and be a role model. More sport instead of empty words and declarations!"
Chrysoula Paliadeli: "The EU should encourage, support and supplement member states sport policies and the EP should encourage European citizens to engage in regular physical activities and demand better athletic infrastructures."
Iva Zanicchi: "I believe that the EP and the EU should continue to promote sports.
Sport has a key-role today when it comes to fighting social problems such as racism. Sport also teaches respect for rules, respect for teammates and especially respect for opponents... Sport is often a vehicle for peace!"