In recent years, several studies have evidenced the contribution of sport to local and regional development – as well as the positive impacts of structural funds to foster this contribution. However, this contribution is still underestimated, and thus under-funded across territories.
Study on sport’s contribution to regional development
The study on structural funds and sport demonstrated the importance of sport in continued regional development. It also outlined the opportunities and challenges in accessing Structural Funds for sport organisations. with more than 200 case studies, there is now substantial evidence of how sport contributes to local and regional development. Further, the study revealed that, across Europe, there is a relative prominence of Interregional (INTERREG) sport-based projects included under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) heading, drawing attention to sport’s potential to generate cross-border interaction.
The majority of ERDF projects revealed a clear urban focus, while others in rural areas were supported under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) – highlighting the rural development impetus of these programmes.. The range of sport-based initiatives supported by the European Structural & Investment Funds (ESIFs) from 2007 to present have provided evidence of the potential of sport and physical activity as active instruments in promoting regional economic and social development. Sport has therefore been show to contribute to the attractiveness and touristic potential of countries and regions, to urban development or to the development of transferable skills.
Sport has also been shown to provide opportunities for innovation and ICT development, and delivers solutions to major social challenges – such as implementing environmentally friendly transport systems, tackling health issues and improving social cohesion. However, the current cohesion policy makes little reference to sport initiatives – with no specific priority or supported action allocated to sport.
Sport is increasingly acknowledged as an important driver for local and regional development. Over 100 regions across Europe have now included sport in their smart specialisation strategies (as an economic priority or as an innovation area). Through the ClusSport partnership, sport is one of the few sectors which is developing a thematic platform under the industrial modernisation area of the smart specialisation strategy platform. – displaying significant interest in making better use of sport as a driver for local and regional development. This was highlighted during a workshop organised as part of the European Week of Regions and Cities, which showed how smart specialisation strategies can be used for sport initiatives in practice.
Following the above-mentioned developments at EU level, the SportHub: Alliance for Regional Development in Europe (SHARE initiative) was launched in 2018. This initiative aims to raise awareness of the role of sport and physical activity in the context of regional development. The main objective is to empower stakeholders and to unlock the full potential of sport for economic and social development across European territories by strengthening its inclusion in policy platforms dealing with regional development. Ultimately, the Share initiative will work to standardise the use of financing instruments (in particular the European Structural and Investment Funds). The SHARE initiative currently brings together more than 100 local, regional and national sport organisations across Europe that are engaged in discussions and activities meant to bring sport in the negotiation process for Structural Funds – at both regional and EU levels.