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The impact of the EU-UEFA Arrangement for Cooperation not withstanding EURO 2020 postponement (I)

Updated: Oct 21, 2022

The following is the first of a two-parts post in which the author attempts to take stock of the relative success and shortcomings of the Arrangement for Cooperation during the period 2014-2020 which it was originally expected to run before being extended due to the COVID pandemic

The postponement of the 16th edition of the European Championships due to COVID-19 has deprived the EU-UEFA Arrangement for Cooperation (AfC) of the crowning jewel that EURO 2020 – across 12 different countries, would have proffered. As it happens, the European Championships have been put on the back burner leaving the AfC, due to lapse on 31 December 2020 as an indifferent proposition. Given that the arrangement has inadvertently been extended to 2021 to overlap with the Euros, it becomes important to take stock of how far this partnership, notwithstanding the EURO 2020 postponement, has been a success.

A good yardstick to measure this success is by looking at how far the arrangement managed to achieve its aims. At the outset, it must be said that the 2014 Arrangement consists of a lot of random objectives plastered on it without any real concrete commitments. On the other hand, the 2018 Arrangement is far more granular with a sole focus on promoting the norms and values common to Europe especially within the context of EURO 2020, which marks a shift in tone and substance. With the Euro’s cancelled at least for another year, I focus solely on the panoply of aims identified in 2014 which fall widely under 3 main pillars – the societal, economic and organizational dimensions of sport, whose success [or lack thereof] will be analysed.

Early inroads as far as the AfC is concerned have been through the promotion of physical activity whose flagship event has been the European Week of Sport which has instrumentalized football to promote cross-cutting goals such as healthy physique. This has seen football being factored in as a first line of defence in ameliorating the antecedent ailments and social security cost effects that come with a sedentary lifestyle. The Commission also maintain that the arrangement has been ‘productive and useful’ (verbatim) in the realization of the promotion of women’s participation in sport as well as helping combat discrimination. However, the jury still remains out on the latter given that much of the initial hard work seems to have come undone with incidents of racism within European football again on the ascendency.

This speaks to a wider malaise not only within football but also at EU level given that the Commission has been unerringly silent in all of this which obfuscates the operational overlaps of some of the aims as proper punitive action is missing from UEFA with lack of a proper voice from the Commission, which should not be the case. In many ways, this lack of leadership by the Commission is largely in keeping with the text of the arrangement which lacks any concrete commitments by the Commission. To this point, a brewing debate among scholars of EU Sports law is that the Arrangement has allowed the EU to abdicate its role of defending general European interests; which in the main revolve around non-discrimination as enshrined in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which prohibits discrimination based on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic origin etc., while not appearing to be doing so. Hence the Commission goes to lengths in clarifying that the Arrangement does not create rights or obligations under international, EU or domestic law (article 5.4); yet knowing full well that as the arrangement was adopted by way of a decision, theoretically it is binding in its entirety (Article 288 TFEU) and confers an exclusive political status to UEFA.

The AfC also enabled the Commission to implement a number of initiatives at UEFA level that had a positive trickledown effect on national associations albeit with varying degree of success by country, even going as far as putting pressure on national football associations in an open way wherever such effects where not visible. However, given that the effect of some of the measures being done under the Arrangement extends beyond the EU since UEFA membership is wider than the EU, thus contributing to the promotion of the European values and principles on a wider scale; it remains glaringly obvious that the Arrangement has not managed to tap into this potential as more can still be done by the EU to complement its external relations in UEFA member associations in more institutional terms alongside its sport oriented provisions that feature for example in its Action Plans with ENP countries. A case in point is the EU-Israel Action Plan mentioning the desire to enhance co-operation in the field of Youth and Sport which can help in fostering interaction between youths as well as helping prevent radicalization. The arrangement could therefore have navigated beyond these contours of the EU’s soft legal instruments to more readily positioned UEFA and the Commissions role within these sport oriented provisions.

Having been undercut by the coronavirus pandemic, the postponement of EURO 2020 has left the Arrangement without its proverbial ‘cherry on top of the cake’. Whereas a full appraisal is not possible until the end of 2021, early signs indicate that much of the action open to scrutiny has been skewered towards the societal dimension to a greater extent.

Webster Chakawata

Sociology, University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe

European Interdisciplinary Studies, College of Europe, Warsaw, Poland

Blog posts represent the views of the author and not that of Sport&EU or its members

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