Snežana Samardžić-Marković

The Council of Europe has long been active in the field of sport. In our latest interview, we caught up with Snežana Samardžić-Marković, Director General of Democracy at the Council of Europe to discuss its work.

Please tell us a little about yourself

I have been Director General of Democracy at the Council of Europe since 2012. It is one of three Directorates General in the CoE (the other two being DG Administration and DG Human Rights and Rule of Law), with responsibility for 50 conventions, over 700 staff members, and nine partial agreements – one of which is EPAS, the one for Sport. Our long-term strategic goal is safeguarding and achieving genuine democracy. Not always an easy task these days. The Council of Europe is a 70-year old organisation, composed of 47 member states, and based on three core values: human rights, rule of law and democracy.Before this, I held various positions in the Serbian Government including as Deputy Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Neighbouring Countries, Assistant Minister of Defense,  co-President of the Serbia-NATO Defense Reform Group, member of the Foundation Board of WADA, Minister of Youth and Sports and President of the Fund for Young Talents. I graduated from Belgrade University and have several specialisations from the University of Harvard - J.F. Kennedy School of Government, the George Marshall Centre Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oslo University.

Before joining the Council of Europe, you were Minister of Youth and Sports in the Serbian government. What were the main sports related challenges you faced in Serbia at the time and what are the current challenges facing sport in Serbia?

The main challenges those days were violence in sport, fight against doping, match-fixing rumours (although no investigated cases or scandals revealed), adequate infrastructure, gender equality and good governance in some federations. However, what I wanted to set on the agenda was a public acknowledgement that sport is not only about results of matches and competitions, but a strategic asset for any country able to recognise that. This meant of course health, inclusion and education, but also the impact of sport on tourism, economy and sport diplomacy: as an example, the excellent technical skills of our coaches, based on knowledge and research had a potential in terms of high-tech export. A broader vision is needed for sports development. I cannot complain about a lack of public sympathy for this added value of sport, indeed – using these arguments I managed to increase the budget for sport every year. Acceptance is fine, yet what was missing in my opinion then and now was proactive, long-term measures in this direction, in short: strategic vision and commitment at the level of the entire country. The attraction for the media and public at large was still 95% on matches and competitions…and this is normal too - sport is about competition as well! It is about fun, isn’t it …so why take it so seriously, madame Minister!?

The Council of Europe has been very active in sport – from the Conventions to the recent sports related Human Rights cases of the Court. Tell us about this work and what are the challenges of the future?

The Council of Europe has indeed over 50 years of experience of intergovernmental co-operation in the field of sports. Our mission is twofold: on the one hand it is to promote the social benefits of sport (notably health, inclusion and education) and to ensure that sports policies are well designed so that everyone can benefit from them, be it in their everyday lives, for recreation or in competitive activities. This is the aim we are pursuing with the current revision of the European Sports Charter, which sets out guidelines for sports policies at national level. Since it was last updated in 2001, there have been major changes in the way sport is practised and commercialised and in the stakeholders involved - now is the time to consider how public policies should take these changes into account. On the other hand, our mission is to defend the CoE’s values in the field of sport. As an organisation based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, we pay attention to the implementation of our common European values in every sector of society, including civil society and thus sport. At present, we are dealing with child safeguarding in sport, the governance of sports organisations and the issue of fair trials in sport anti-doping cases, which was recently pinpointed by the European Court of Human Rights. Sports integrity issues have always been the focus of our activity and, indeed, have given rise to several international Treaties, on safety, security and services at sports events, anti-doping and manipulation of competitions.

In 2015/16, you sat on the European Commission’s High-Level Group on Sport Diplomacy. Tell us about that experience and with sport in mind, what are your thoughts on the relationship between the Council of Europe and the EU? Can the relationship be strengthened?

In the field of sport, improvements have been made over the last years thanks to this relationship. The Council of Europe and the EU have run a number of successful joint projects in the fields of gender equality, child safeguarding and safety of sport venues. We have continuous dialogue at political, managerial and operational levels. My participation in the high-level group on Sport Diplomacy at the invitation of Commissioner Navracsics is just one example among others. However, there is still room for improvement, and I consider that both organisations could certainly be more effective in joining their forces. The Council of Europe’s strength lies in its harmonisation competences through its intergovernmental standards (conventions, recommendations), but it has little capacity for co-operation activities to implement these standards. The EU has impressive co-operation capacities (Erasmus+ programme), but limited competences in terms of policy harmonisation. If the co-operation projects were used to back the implementation of standards that were adopted by all governments at the continental level, including by the 27 EU MS, it would achieve higher outcomes and demonstrate the complementarity of both organisations. In hindsight, if I had the Report of thehigh-level group on Sport Diplomacy with its recommendations back then as a minister, perhaps I would have learned about it through the Council of Europe and its intergovernmental co-operation, I would have had inspiration, standards and therefore means to persuade my Government to coin a strategy on how to “exploit” sport better and invest better in sport, as I mentioned above.

What advice would you give someone who is looking to work in the Council of Europe – generally and in relation to sport?

First of all, I would like to offer a warning that it would be rather risky to bank on a career in the field of sports in international organisations, as there are very few positions in this area and they are mostly filled via general recruitment procedures. The basic requirement for working in an international organisation is a relevant education (university studies, language proficiency). Any education or professional experience in an international environment will be an asset. In any case, it is best to enter via general competitive examinations. Only rarely are positions in sport filled directly by external vacancy notices and the main way to enter the organisation is therefore to pass a general competitive examination. Experience or training in sport may make you the right person to land the sport department, but the key bottleneck is to pass a general recruitment procedure. Other pathways to work in international organisations are temporary contracts, secondments (from a national public administration) and traineeships, but these are not for long term employment.

September 2020