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European policies to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport: The Erasmus programme opportunity

Copyrights: European Commission

European policies to promote inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport: The Erasmus programme opportunity

The Erasmus+ Sport programme provides funding to sport for development policies, and is striving to ensure that the projects they fund are not only inclusive, but also focus on the rights of and opportunities for disabled women, who are doubly discriminated against.

There are around 80 million people with some form of disability in Europe, representing 15% of the European. People with these functional characteristics face different discriminatory barriers, mostly related to accessing education, employment and social protection, which are already widely identified but far from being solved.

Through an inclusive approach, the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (United Nations, 2006) highlights the need for people with disabilities to be able to participate in recreational or sporting activities on equal terms with the rest of the population.

In the same way, the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020 encourages the planning and adoption of political and technical measures to enable the full and satisfactory participation of persons with disabilities across the different strata of the society, including the context of sports.

In line with these policies and following the integration of sport in the European Union’s areas of competence, the White Paper on Sport (European Commission, 2007) highlights different measures to be taken, by the Union and the member states, in order to use sport as a tool for the promotion of social inclusion and equal opportunities for different minorities, such as persons with disabilities. This position and these guidelines reinforce the “European dimension of sport” perspective, its values and possible pathways.

Following this umbrella policy, different initiatives have been taking place regarding the development of the social function of sport. Among these initiatives, the integration of sports within the Erasmus programme must be given particular importance.

This programme, started in 1987 to provide mobility between countries to higher education students, has broadly expanded its areas of intervention and target audiences, sport being included in the 2014-2020 period as a specific action (known as Erasmus+ Sport) and then equally distributed between the three key-actions - mobility, strategic partnership and support to policy reform - of the programme for the 2021-2027 period.  

In line with the social function of sports area, as noted in the White Paper on Sport, Erasmus+ Sport for 2014-2020 aimed to:

  • Tackle cross-border threats to the integrity of sport, such as doping, match fixing and violence, as well as all kinds of intolerance and discrimination
  • Promote and support good governance in sport and dual careers of athletes
  • Promote voluntary activities in sport, together with social inclusion, equal opportunities and awareness of the importance of health-enhancing physical activity, through increased participation in, and equal access to sport for all

Between 2014 and 2020 there were a total of 1200 Erasmus+ Sport projects approved for funding. Among these, 163 projects were/are fully or partially targeting persons with disabilities, which highlights the relevance of this topic within the Erasmus programme and the European policies.

Even considering the positive number of Erasmus+ Sport projects approved to promote the topic of inclusion of persons with disabilities in sport, only 3 of these focus on the issue of gender equality within this specific population, and none of these specifically looks at disabled women as their main project target-audience.

This so called “double discrimination” faced by disabled women is an issue also widely identified, but it is even more far from being solved than the discrimination faced by disabled men, which means that this issue can be considered a key topic to be addressed in future proposals.

The next Erasmus period of 2021-2027 is expected that a total funding of close to 550 million euros which will be allocated to sports projects (this amount represents more than the double of the 260 million euros budgeted for 2014-2020). This makes the programme a highly significant opportunity for different European organizations that work in sport and persons with disabilities, and with girls and women with disabilities, to secure funding for their programs. This opportunity becomes even more relevant due to the negative impact that COVID-19 has had on a global level.

Through the participation in European projects, beneficiary organizations would be able to implement programs that are aligned with the different European policies and guidelines regarding the persons with disabilities. This way, and through sport, they will have the resources to effectively contribute and work on the development towards a more equitable society and a more inclusive citizenship, thus contributing to the development of the intended European dimension of sport.

However, it is very important to remark that, despite being a European programme, organizations from countries outside the Union and outside European territories are also eligible to participate and to be involved in these Erasmus projects. Thus, the programme is not only an important opportunity for European organizations who work with persons with disabilities, but it is an interesting opportunity for organizations from all over the world.

This text is an adapted and shorter version of a text previously published in the “Invictus – Viseu” newsletter last May 2020, which was focused on the presentation of the Erasmus programme opportunity to the Portuguese sport organizations that work with persons with disabilities.

Bruno Avelar Rosa, Anna Macià and Jordi Pinillos are part of the Qantara Sports team

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Bruno Avelar Rosa, Anna Macià & Jordi Pinillos

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Friday, November 27, 2020 - 19:13