Within the framework of Luxembourg's Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), the Ministry of Sport, working together with the European Commission and Sportlycée Luxembourg, organised an international conference on promoting the dual career of athletes. It was held on 20 November 2015 in Munsbach.
The meeting, which brought together experts, sportspeople and politicians, set out to report on work done at European level on the subject, and to enable exchanges of experience and ideas between those involved, with a view to identifying plans for progress "on all aspects of a subject which is one of our Presidency's priorities", as emphasised by Romain Schneider, Minister for Sports, who gave the opening address at the conference.
To clarify, promoting the dual career of athletes is based upon an observation: to succeed at the highest level in sport, it is necessary to follow intensive training programmes and take part in national and international competitions. This is sometimes difficult to balance with the challenges and constraints of the educational system and the employment market. In addition, sports careers end at a relatively young age, and few athletes can then live on their income from sports.
It is necessary to offer the best possibilities for training and transition for a post-sports career
By way of introduction, Romain Schneider, Minister for Sport, said that while the subject of the dual career of athletes is "a relatively recent concern of the EU's", the "small circle" of people with an interest "in this very specific subject" is "constantly expanding". "After having supported and encouraged our athletes during their sporting careers, we must provide them with a professional future, because there are very few who will be able to live on their sports income", he stressed.
While sport is a matter of national responsibility, the Minister nevertheless believes it necessary to apply a European dimension to the principle of the dual career, and to make efforts to go beyond purely national frameworks. "We need to offer young talented athletes the best provision possible for balancing sport and study, as well as the best possibilities for training and transition for their post-sports careers", the Minister continued.
Romain Schneider referred to the case of Luxembourg, where this dual aim is particularly important, since it is often necessary "to look for solutions beyond our borders in order to offer a similar framework to our best athletes, through international cooperation or exchanges, and also through increased mobility for our students and athletes across Europe". In this regard, the Minister expressed the wish that Europeans be "pioneers and innovators" in this matter, going beyond the natural barriers in that arise due to sporting competitions and competitiveness between countries.
Antonio Silva Mendes, Director of Sport and Youth of the European Commission, pointed out that following the Treaty of Lisbon, the importance of the dimension of sport has been highlighted at the EU level, not only as a way to boost physical activity, as had been the case previously, but also as a way to promote social integration. According to the Director, however, there needs to be a more integrated and cross-cutting approach to the promotion of sport, particularly within the educational context, but also in other departments. "We must create the right conditions for linking education and sport", he stressed, welcoming "the significant efforts being made by the Luxembourg Presidency" in this context.
In terms of promoting the dual career of athletes, Antonio Silva Mendes reminded those present that on the basis of the EU's 2011-2014 Work Plan on Sport drawn up by the Council, in 2012 the EU Expert Group "Education & Training in Sport" enacted certain Guidelines on the subject. On 17 May 2013, the Council issued conclusions on these Guidelines, calling for several measures to be implemented. In addition, the Commission has co-financed various transnational projects and various studies on the subject, including one on minimum quality requirements for dual career services, the preliminary results of which were first presented at the conference.
In the elite sport sector, priority is very often placed on sporting results
Various presentations followed the introductory session, of which the first related, in fact, to the above-mentioned study, whose final results will be published at the end of 2015. One of its authors, Dr Cees Vervoorn of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, stressed that the study's aim was to define a set of minimum requirements for these services and a draft quality framework on the subject. However, this work had been particularly difficult because practices in the Member States vary considerably.
Among the key messages to emerge from the work, the researcher highlighted, is the fact that in the EU, at least 100 000 athletes are said to be affected, "but certainly far more", in a context where, in the elite sport sector, the tendency is to focus solely on sports potential rather than promoting the combination of education, work and sport. Thus, priority is given to sporting results. The researcher noted that in addition, in many Member States the systems in place "vary wildly", ranging from a total lack thereof to well-established systems. He also noted the lack of standardisation of minimum requirements and the difficulty of measuring their results.
The study also shows that the needs of athletes in this context may be identified and made operational and that a minimum requirements model for services relating to dual careers may be developed, the same as with quality labels, stressed the researcher.
Dual careers must enable individuals to reach their full potential in all spheres
Guy Taylor, Chair of the EU Expert Group on Human Resource Development in Sports, focused on the principle of dual careers for athletes. In addition, the national coordinator of "Sport England Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme" (TASS), a programme supported by the British Government in partnership with young athletes, education establishments and public sports bodies, explained that athletes could be the victims of a deficit concerning potential for education and skills for the most talented, but also in terms of sports potential for those who are deemed not talented enough to participate in international competitions.
The dual career principle must aim, in this context, to "develop a partnership between all those involved to enable individuals to attain their full potential in sports, academic and professional spheres and in life", he explained. In his view, many practices which purport to promote dual careers actually do not meet "at all the needs of athletes for their future lives". "An athlete who studies for a sports qualification because that is all he can access is not pursuing a dual career", he stressed.
In the expert's view, these problems stem above all from a failure to take ownership, particularly at the policy level, of the need to provide services such as these, as well as a failure to understand what is at stake. He also stressed a lack of commitment and investment in sport and in the development of educational and professional structures devoted to the subject. He also expressed regret for the fact that the measures taken are in addition "symptomatic".
The special needs of small countries
Pascal Schaul, Deputy Director of Sportlycée and member of the EU Expert Group on the development of human resources in sport, focused on the special features of the smallest countries in the context of dual careers for athletes. In Luxembourg, 80 % of athletes have to train or study abroad, he pointed out, noting that the mobility of athletes was therefore very important.
While various factors argue in favour of the integration of foreign athletes into national structures (particularly the need for very specific structures either for water sports or winter sports, in the absence of possibilities within the country itself), the obstacles in terms of a dual career abroad are numerous. Thus, sport is still very much viewed in national terms, partly for reasons linked to competition, and access to infrastructure is limited, while the issue of funding is also a problem, he said.
In the view of the Deputy Director, therefore, there is a need to promote the mobility of elite athletes in the context of the dual careers of athletes, but also to reflect on the introduction of a European label for institutions that are active in the area, and on introducing elite athlete status.