Sport&EU in cooperation with the Sport and Citizenship / Sport et Citoyenneté think tank launched a discussion on violence in sport in Europe. In an introductory contribution, Bart Ooijen presents the role and actions of the European Commission in preventing violence from occurring in sport. Bart Ooijen is a policy officer with the Sport Unit of the European Commission.

Sport&EU invites authors to provide complementary or alternative views on the issue in a debate that will be carried online and reprinted in Sport&EU Review, the official journal of the Association for the Study of Sport and the European Union.


Violence in sport: What does the European Commission do?

Violence in sport, especially at football grounds, remains a disturbing problem. Violent behaviour can jeopardise the role of sport as a tool to convey positive values.

Progress to avoid violence related to sporting events has been notable since the Heysel drama in 1985. National legislation and security regulations are in place, stadiums have been upgraded, international cooperation on the level of police and clubs has improved and the approach towards supporters has changed positively and is better managed.

Although sport and violence have been associated for a long time with football hooliganism, other professional sport events (for example basketball and ice hockey) are facing similar problems, albeit on a smaller scale. The problem is no longer limited to the most popular professional football leagues in Europe such as those of Italy, the UK, Spain and Germany: other leagues and international competitions and tournaments are also affected.

The Commission is committed to contributing to the prevention of spectator violence. On the basis of Council Decision 2002/348/JHA on security at international football matches, data exchange between National Football Information Points has been developed and further reinforced with UEFA. Exchange of operational information on risk supporters among police services and/or sports authorities has been made possible. The Commission promotes a wide use of the Handbook for Police Cooperation and supports pan-European training for police officers and safety personnel, to prevent and control violence more efficiently.

The European Commission recognises that violence in sport does not only concern spectators in major sport events. Unfortunately violence and various forms of intolerance occur in many modalities on the fields of local amateur clubs, especially in team sports. For example, a study on racism and ethnic discrimination in sport (2010) by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency indicates that racism has become more common in amateur sport and even in youth sport. It involves racist and other discriminatory attitudes such as anti-Semitism, anti-Muslimism and homophobia. The results of one of the projects funded in the framework of the EU’s 2011 Preparatory Action in the field of sport will inform us about sexual violence and harassment in sport. National governments and sport governing bodies have started projects in this field as well, recognising that just as many other sectors in society, sport has to fight against these phenomena.

In its 2011 Communication on sport, the Commission points out the importance of investing more in social and educational measures to prevent violence in sport. It is a fact that law enforcement authorities cannot deal with the underlying causes of violence in sport alone. To ensure that sport keeps its welcoming and enjoyable character and to minimise safety and security risks, all competent agencies should be encouraged to support or implement social and educational measures to prevent violence. By doing so, sport could also function as a positive example for other sectors in society and contribute to the fight against violence in general. The Commission encourages the exchange of best practices in this field.

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