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#ESP2019: Volunteering, diversity and mental health on the agenda

Copyrights: OPES Italia

#ESP2019: Volunteering, diversity and mental health on the agenda

With the European Sport Platform 2019 now concluded, the communication partner, think tank Sport and Citizenship, provide a report of the event.

For its second edition, the European Sport Platform (ESP) organised by ENGSO invited experts to discuss on three major topics. The first one, volunteering, is central in the sports movement. How can we measure the economic value of volunteering? Adrian Feller, UEFA senior event workforce manager first explained how the invisible value of volunteers has an effect on the economic and social impact of football. Claus Farnberger, civil service and sport from the Federal Ministry of Austria also commented on this economic dimension of sport. However, volunteering is not only a matter of economic worth but also a means of empowering and developing competencies for the volunteers, pictured during this session as the everyday heroes of sport. ESP participants pointed out the fact that it is becoming harder to engage volunteers in sports. How can sport clubs attract, train and retrain volunteers? Within short workshops, participants suggested good practices such as creating awards to engage them and stressed the importance of creating a bond before, during and after the event.

Relationship between volunteering and gender equality

Diversity in governance is also a major topic in sports organisations. Niina Toroi, chair of the ENGSO Equality Within Sports Committee (EWS) presented surprising figures on gender governance in the sports sector; only 8% of the presidents of sports organisations are women, representing also 23% of the board members. She insisted: “by reaching equality, we can use the full potential of sports”.

Tiina Kivisaari, director of the Sport Division of the Finnish Ministry of Education and Sport shared her own personal and professional experience as a woman and head of a division. She underlined the relationship between volunteering and the lack of women in the boards of sports organisations. Many women won’t engage themselves because of the time they need to give to their work, their families and their home and that’s why it is difficult to have them on the boards afterwards. Finally, good practices from European projects such as SCORE and Play to Train were presented. Both initiatives are about increasing the number of female sports coaches.

Better sports and better physical activity

The final session of the ESP was dedicated to physical activity and mental health. The healing impact of sport and physical activity for mental health has received a careful, yet optimistic recognition by scientists. According to Richard Bailey, senior researcher at the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE), despite evidences supporting the use of sports and physical activity to prevent and treat mental disorders, it is very important to use it properly. Indeed, bad sports experiences (when it is badly presented or badly taught for instance) can be associated with social isolation, loneliness, can damage self-esteem and increase stress and anxiety.

To make the difference we need to find the balance to make sports and physical activity meaningful and safe, that provides opportunities for decision-making and social interaction. Finally, it is important to stop talking about more sport and physical activity and start talking about better sport and physical activity. Several European projects and initiatives such as SPIRIT (led by ENGSO) and SPHERE address this topic. Francesca Cirulli, senior researcher and group leader at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, explained the growing interest from psychiatrists in studying scientifically the role of physical activity in mental health and pointed out the need of establishing protocols that can be adapted.

Sport has been many times reduced to the high-level issues, but it is much more. The EU has been gradually investing more and more funds in the development of grassroots sport. Developing sports on a grassroots level through clubs and NGOs by considering this sector as a whole to enhance topics such as the ones mentioned above and making it accessible to all have to remain a priority of the new European Commission and European Parliament.

The #ESP2019 was a platform for discussion and exchange of ideas on the three above-mentioned topics. The event gathered over sixty people whose active participation made the event a highly interactive one.

The second European Sport Platform was organised by ENGSO, in partnership with the European Lotteries and hosted by OPES Italia. For more photos of the event, click here.


Article type



Noémie Gingue


Sport and Citizenship


Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 10:31