Vassilakopoulos Addresses EU

22 September 2006

During Wednesday's meeting in Brussels between the European Union and Europe's team sports' federations, FIBA Europe President Mr. George Vassilakopoulos took the opportunity to address the delegates on sport's role in society.

Enclosed is the full text of Mr. Vassilakopoulos's speech.

SPORT: A social good or a commercial product? 

During the last decades, the sports movement has evolved under the determining influence of a controversial "modern" concept of things and facts, a concept inspired by the doctrine and the methods of the so-called globalization. In this context, some interested “circles”, acting with very concrete aims and targets, have successfully managed to persuade a considerable part of the society that sports bodies and top sport should be organised and function exclusively on the basis of the rules and the laws of the market.

Thus, we witnessed the gradual introduction of a new, "modern" terminology and a new and pretentious "innovative" determination of several sports concepts. Thus, sport is transformed from a social good to a commercial product, the development of sport and sports ideals is considered as the exploitation of sports show, the spectator or supporter became customer (and very recently evolved to consumer), the association of sports clubs became a business association, the sports event became a commercial and financial act.

We live in the era of an uncontrolled invasion of the area of sport by forces foreign to the sports values. Through their ever increasing involvement, these forces have been trying to alter the essential features of sport and of its relation with society and the individual citizen, proclaiming shamelessly that they bring the “new”, the “future”, the “modernisation”, that they express of the new era and that in all this there is only one value that matters: money. In reality though, these forces have always represented what is the darkest, the most anachronistic, suspect and contrary to the interests of society and sport. They want to persuade us that sport is another “commercial product” and not a “socio-athletic good”. This is why we see in the forefront persons that govern the financial interests of sport with the same behaviour and in the same way that they would sell potatoes or beans.

However, as it is the case with all major social and political actions, such policies and practices in sport should be judged by the results they produce. Thus, it would be useful to try and see where has the sports movement been led under the influence of these so-called "new" phenomena and "modern" trends and at the same time ask the essential question: during that period, did sport achieve more progress and development, more social solidarity, more social input by its stakeholders or in the contrary it was led into a process of degeneration and decline?

There is only one answer to this question: all these inconsiderate, inappropriate and reckless interventions have led the sports society to a course of decline, dominated by the 2 main curses of our era: DOPING and GAMBLING (betting). As a major consequence, the purity or "cleanliness" of the sports result or the sports performance is more and more contested by a large part of the society. This increasing loss of credibility is a major enemy, a major danger for the sports movement, a danger that risks to be fatal as to the social and athletic aim and mission of sport.

As more and more social and sports actors do, I firmly believe that the time has come for the healthy socio-athletic movement to come out of its shell, to react, to contradict and combat the fatalistic approaches promoted by some “occasional” and latish interests that have nothing to do with real sport, to take the control again, to develop the initiatives that are required in order to ensure the necessary institutional interventions that will put things in order and bring back to the forefront and in focus the values, the principles, the ideas and the visions of the sports movement.

Sport is a uniform social expression, all areas and aspects of which are closely linked and cannot be separated. In order to avoid any new and intentional confusion, it is indispensable to define exactly WHAT IS SPORT, WHAT IS PHYSICAL EXERCISE, WHAT IS SHOW and finally WHAT IS CIRCUS and to underline that sport differs from these other activities because its fundamental inherent feature is competition, the fight for victory, for the best performance, for the best sports result.

Sport is one and unique, and no adjectives may be added to it. The insistence by some to use distinctions and labels is suspect and dangerous, since they try to persuade us that the term "professional" refers automatically to someone who is responsible and reliable, while the term "amateur" – a term that is by the way not any longer appropriate - refers to someone who is neither responsible nor reliable. This is a total distortion of reality, a full and unfair reversal of roles, acts and contributions. The real workers of sport are those who love it and serve it benevolently from various positions and roles. These people, the volunteers, who show a responsible attitude from both the sports and the social point of view, have a far greater sports and social responsibility than the so-called "professionals" or "businessmen" as they like to call themselves.

The distinction to be actually made today is not between “amateur and professional sport”. This is an obsolete and outdated dilemma. The distinction to be made is between professionalism in sport and commercialisation. Professionalism in sport signifies that money is used as a means for obtaining the best sports result. Commercialisation signifies that sport is used as a means in order to obtain the best possible financial result.

This is the main distinction in our era, and this is the point that should be focused on, since the question is not whether money is used or not, but what is the purpose, the aim of this use of money.

Human societies cannot be built exclusively on the basis of the conditions, the norms and the rules of the market. On this basis you build only “societies of gamblers”, “societies of speculators”, “societies-casino”. Judicial proceedings and litigations, bankruptcies, rubber cheques and breaches of contracts, tax evasion, suspect results, daily protests and complaints, lack of transparency, lack of reliability, discredit, all these compose the main features and the results of the so-called “new era”, a “new era” that has now been totally revealed and, fortunately, is collapsing. Sport is not a simple financial of commercial activity, it is process encompassing a wider social interest.

On this occasion, it would be useful to note also that:
According to the opinions of respected observers and analysts, technological innovation and geopolitical developments such as the globalisation, lead to the radical transformation of our society. In this transformation, the society of the group is replaced by the society of the individual.

Internet, e-mail, mobile telephones, the gradual abolition of national borders, all these create a new environment that focuses on the individual and his isolated activity. This unfortunately alters the human characteristics as they were known for centuries. It is precisely here that sport and the sports movement can play a determining role, it is here that sport and more specifically team sports are invited to bring out and support the human values and social cohesion and to give an answer to all those who try to confine us within our houses and within ourselves. Sport, as a social good should become the vector, the protagonist of a new campaign against social isolation.

However, before proceeding with drafting and adopting any legislative text in this direction, I believe that it would be indispensable to establish a code determining the various concepts of modern sport, so as to dissipate the current confusion and avoid all possible subsequent misunderstandings.

From our part, we make it clear: we say YES to professionalism in sport, in the sense of responsibility, ethics, development, progress, scientific knowledge and the effort for the best. YES to the real, NO to the false. YES to the genuine, NO to the virtual. YES to the social, NO to the communication trick. NO to the commercialisation and its main pillars, namely doping, gambling and the organised and directed violence, since sport itself does not produce violence. And finally, we say YES to the correct professional, NO to the merchant.


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