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Restoring Trust in Sport: The EU Can Play in a Forward Position

Football plays a huge role in our society, linking communities across the world in a shared passion for positive sporting values. The game has the potential to reach out to marginalised communities, improve health and wellbeing and bridge the gap between generations.

Last week, the European Parliament voted on a resolution concerning the ongoing FIFA scandal. As a member of the European Parliament's committee responsible for sport, I was subsequently interviewed by local radio on this issue. I expected to be asked about the Parliament's position and was ready to describe and explain the recommendations it had put forward, but was instead repeatedly questioned on the relevance of the Parliament having a say in this matter full stop.

I am therefore taking the opportunity I was denied then to explain why the EP resolution is legitimate, what it says, and why it matters. Further to the question of corruption in FIFA, I would also like to elaborate on the relevance of the Parliament's role in sport, evoking two crucial elements: sport and human rights and gender equality in sport.

First let's remind ourselves of the facts. The International Football Association - better known by its abbreviated title, FIFA - has been haunted by corruption allegations for years, but in recent weeks the situation has spiralled into a full-blown crisis. During the plenary session in Strasbourg last week, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) debated these developments and current allegations, and consequently adopted a parliamentary resolution on the issue.

Before getting into the issue itself, let's clear up some of the EU jargon: what is a resolution in the context of the European Parliament? Essentially it's a text adopted by a majority of MEPs in which the Parliament calls on the Member States and the Commission to act on a certain topic, be it purely legislative or political. It could answer a proposal for legislation from the Commission or it could come as a result of the Parliament's own initiative. In this case it is clearly a political statement which includes recommendations with regard to the recent FIFA corruption scandal.

Now that we have got the jargon out of the way, let's tackle the following question. Why is the EU dealing with this at all, and why does the European Parliament feel the need to say anything about FIFA? Firstly because it is entitled to do so: the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 gave the EU a specific competence in the field of sport for the first time ever. It now has the power to support, coordinate and supplement sport policy measures taken by EU countries. On top of that, the fight against corruption and money laundering is one of the EU's prerogatives. But beyond the matter of competences, you have 28 countries debating a common problem and exploring common solutions. It's called cooperation and solidarity, and it is the basis of the European spirit and reaffirms the very foundation of the European project.

Now let's focus on the resolution itself. The EP resolution strongly condemns the failures of FIFA and calls for greater collaboration in order to work on achieving more transparency and accountability within the Association.

More specifically the resolution calls on Member States and the EU, and also sports associations, athletes and supporters, to co-operate fully with all ongoing and future investigations into allegations of corrupt practices at FIFA; it calls for FIFA to commit to a thorough review of past and present decisions and for complete transparency going forward, including the remuneration of executive and senior management. This review should include FIFA's statutes, structure, codes and operational policies and practices; the introduction of term limits and independent due diligence for members of the executive committee, including the President; and an external and fully independent financial audit assessing the reliability of its financial statements.

The EP statement stresses the need for all future reforms within professional sport, and football in particular, to include substantial provisions for the protection of the rights of athletes, trainers and teams. It also expresses explicitly its support for the New FIFA Now campaign launched by fans and supporters who, like us, are fed up with FIFA's antics.

As the Europe Labour spokesperson for culture, education, youth, citizenship and sport, I welcome the fact that the European Parliament is taking a position on that matter and is willing to take the lead in the fight against corruption in FIFA - and not just leave it to the USA. I particularly welcome the emphasis the resolution places on the need to promote education and strengthen preventative actions. I strongly agree that FIFA must implement structural reforms in order to bring about transparency and accountability.

Although the resolution focuses on the fight against corruption, I would like to link the topic to another crucial element: respect of Human Rights. The circumstances surrounding the preparation of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar are deeply regrettable. It is estimated that 4,000 people might die before the first ball is even kicked. A debate on the first European Games taking place in Baku this month was also held at last plenary, in the light of host country Azerbaijan's patchy human rights record, for example the case of rights activist Leyla and Arif Yunus, imprisoned since July 30th 2014. MEPs specifically addressed the issue of sport competitions being hosted by countries that do not respect human rights and discussed the position that the EU should take in these cases. A specific hearing on the issue of Human Rights and Sport was recently held in the Parliament, identifying a need to highlight the issues at all levels and condemn the abuses that have been taking place. Sport must remain a vehicle for promoting human rights, not a justification for breaching them.

As we are talking about good governance and ethics in sport, I also want to introduce another topical element to the debate, especially in the light of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015: gender equality in sport and fair representation of women in governing bodies. The current FIFA scandal presents an opportunity to encourage football governing bodies to prioritise women's participation. And by the way, here again the European Parliament had something to say: in a resolution on women in sport adopted in 2002, it highlighted that, as in the political and economic spheres, women in sport decision-making face major barriers to participation. It therefore called for a 30% target for women in sport management structures within 10 years. This could have a positive outcome not only on the transparency and accountability of sports organisations and access to sports activities for women, but might also counter the poor media coverage given to women's sport and the socially discriminating and sexually stereotyped reporting found in the media.

Football plays a huge role in our society, linking communities across the world in a shared passion for positive sporting values. The game has the potential to reach out to marginalised communities, improve health and wellbeing and bridge the gap between generations. It provides a platform to promote peace, respect of Human Rights and intercultural dialogue. Men and women are equally passionate about the 'beautiful game' and many clubs are doing admirable education and outreach work, for example Manchester United and Sunderland. Football also makes a big contribution to our economy, providing jobs in the service industries, lucrative careers for the top players and forming an important stream of revenue for broadcasters. Integrity is a vital component of the sport without which these values of solidarity and social inclusion cannot be engendered. This is why we must restore trust in sporting institutions and fight against all forms of corruption, and the EU can help us doing just that. In the same way that excellent journalism helped to uncover the extent of the corruption in FIFA, so it should also report more fully on the positive role played by the European Parliament.

Julie Ward is MEP for North West of England, and a member of the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament

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