What will remain of Euro2016?

Antonio Saccone


According to the UEFA, the spectators of the 51 matches were 2.4 million, out of over 11.2 million requests. The ten Fan Zones across France have attracted 3.6 million people. The event was broadcasted by more than 130 media: a cumulative live audience of six billion viewers is expected to have watched the matches, with more than 300 million for the final. 300 million visitors were on the official tournament website, compared to 88 million in 2012. You can ask «What will remain of Euro2016?» to any of the people reached, to any of the stakeholders involved (public, private, non-gorvernamental organisations, media, sport representatives) or to any of the 2,1 billions people composing the football community worldwide (according to www.fifa.com) and receive very different answers.

For sure, EURO2016 will be remembered as the first continental tournament with 24 teams: considering that in Europe there are less than 60 national federations, many countries usually not able to qualify to the final phase could participate for the first time. On one hand, this might have reduced the level, but it has contributed to bring a lot of enthusiasm of many supporters, extending furthermore the outreach of football to new audiences (according to UEFA, only 298 people in Iceland decided not to watch Iceland-England, game that recorded a 99.8% market share). Among the debutants, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Wales reached respectively the knock-out phase, the quarter finals and the semifinals: their supporters left deep memories across Europe by sharing their cultures, colours and songs – such as the hit “Will Grigg is on fire” (on the melody of the dance song «Greed for desire» sang by Gala) sang by the Northern Ireland’s fan and the Icelandic “Viking clap”, both very famous across Europe now, also beyond the football people. Interesting enough, the day after the Brexit, Wales and Northern Ireland played a match with an English referee.


Continental overview

La Chapelle is a block located in the northern peripheral side of Paris. On the 5th of July, while the football people were waiting for the semifinals, a delegation of the French Senate played a friendly match with the team of Sport and Citizenship, a French-based European think tank dealing with sport and social policies. The goal of the match was to rise awareness on participation in sport for everyone: from the members of the Senate to the people living in remote areas of Paris. Together with many former and current athletes, acting as Ambassador for the think tank, also Maxime Leblanc, EU Affairs manager at Sport and Citizenship, played: ”Sport – and football in particular – is a strong vector for the social capital as it builds this capacity to be socially active and interact with others. According to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the more connections there are, the more well off individuals will be physically, socially, personally and economically. The list of the benefits that football can bring is long and could outweigh the negativity displayed in the media is just a tiny part of the iceberg that overshadows the millions of volunteers, the thousands of sport clubs, million of players. I believe that the key mission of sport in our contemporary society is to tackle the physical inactivity crisis and the sedentary lifestyles, which have become the norm in Europe and a phenomenon which is burdening our economies and not allowing to fully exploit the “societal potential of sport”. Inactivity is now recognized as a major public health concern, since it is the fourth leading risk factor for diseases. The health risks associated with sedentary lifestyles apply to all people, irrespective of their location, culture and age. Reduced rates of sport participation means to reduce also other important social aspects in other field of the life, such as education, socialisation, skills development and many others”.

The think tank is leading the European EU Funded project PASS – Physical Activity Serving Society, which is aimed by rising awareness on the importance of physical activity. The research shows that increasing physical activity levels and physical fitness is associated with reductions of many risk of factors: while decreasing them, the risk increases. Leblanc: “The available evidence suggests that activity levels are low and declining: around 210 million European citizens – around 40% – are inactive. This generates economic costs of more than 80 billion euros every year for the EU Members, only considering the four major non-communicable diseases – coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, colorectal and breast cancer – through the indirect costs of inactivity-related mood and anxiety disorders. Moreover, 66% and 85% of policymakers in Europe are unaware respectively of the obesity and overweight levels in their country”.

Can the EURO2016 – and the mass-sport events in general – promote participation in sport? Leblanc: “Major sporting events are a window of opportunity to convey messages about sports participation and healthier lifestyles. To achieve this ambition, one needs to grasp the complexity of the governance of sport. The ecosystem of sport includes sport organizations and federations but also governments, sponsors, civil society, academics, and others. It is therefore necessary to engage in the policy making all the stakeholders”.

In this process, there is also room for private companies. In facts, among the PASS project partners there is also NIKE, which has launched the agenda “Designed to move”: the goal is to promote physical activity among kids and youngsters. The agenda calls for cross-sector and cross-border cooperation in promoting physical activity in different settings.  The 10 Fan Zones of Euro2016 – spaces equipped with big screens, bars, food provider and many leisure, recreational and sport activities – had “Coca Cola stadia” to allow people to play.

What are the main barriers to overcome, Maxime? “I feel that the lack of political impetus to “take sport seriously” and consider it as a cross-sector tool to address a variety of public policy fields is a barrier. It seems to me that the local levels of governments have been forgotten in the process: they represent a level of administration which is close to citizens. Local public bodies can create the conditions for citizens to be physically active, and thus active the potential of sport at local level. The WHO and the EU have prepared many policy papers, but unfortunately the EU competence is limited to knowledge-sharing”.


France 2016

Speaking about football, both at French and European levels, Lyon is indeed one of the most important cities. Not just because it was one of the 10 hosting cities, but also because last May the local female team has won the last Champions League for the third time, while the male team – which won the French league from 2001 to 2008 – is regularly present in EU competitions. In facts, Lyon hosts also the headquarters of the European Observatory for Employment of Sport, an international organisation working towards the development of the sport and active leisure sector, expert in building bridges between the worlds of education and employment and ensuring the development of a competent workforce for sport sector. Carole Ponchon, pr and project manager, analyses the challeges fronted by the organisers: “To ensure a successful mass sport event, there are three aspects to be taken into account since the application: 1. proper and transparent forecasting and managing of the budget; 2. ensuring a good experience for those involved – for example for the spectators, so consider elements as security, public safety, transport and accomodation offer; and 3. planning of the legacy, for example adapted and flexible infrastuctures, transfer/recognise the skills and experience acquired by staff and volunteers”.

“Specifically – continues Carole – , the Euro2016 in France took place in a very tense context. The threat of terrorism has cast a shadow on the whole society: people in charge of security and safety have been under a lot of pressure for long before the event. They had to secure stadia, transport infrastructures, fan zones and to work with their European counterparts to deal with the mass influx of supporters and monitor the activities of hooligans. Moreover, the social movement protesting against the «labour low», the Tour de France, the Gay Pride and other events required some specific security measures, beside the regular life of the hosting communities.”

How can we evaluate the Euro2016, then? Ponchon: “A fair evaluation will need to look at the broader picture. Without focusing on the quality of the football practised – which is a different topic -, we can say that after some major incidents during the first round – violence and hooliganism in two matches plaied Marseille and Saint Etienne – the Euro2016 has been a success in terms of the atmosphere. In spite of the shock generated by the Brexit and maybe thanks to its expansion to 24 teams, the Euro2016 has proved that we could all live, learn and have fun together. I feel it might have encouraged people to broaden their horizon and wish to visit some other countries.”

According to UEFA, the economic value of the event for France has been to over €1.2 billion €. Around 100.000 people have been employed, 20.000 jobs were created for the construction and renovation of stadia, 25.000 full-time jobs have resulted from the economic impact alone. The volunteers were around 6.500. What can we say about the economic impact? “Beside being possible drivers for some sectors as transport or tourism, I believe we shouldn’t expect major events to be a magical driver for the economy. They may have an effectin the host country if envisaged as an opportunity for investment in infrastuctures and – most important – in people. In this sense, the legacy of Euro2016 can be considered as positive if the volunteers and the staff were trained properly to fulfill their tasks and that their skills and expericence will be recognised and valued, so they can be competitive on the job market afterwards”.

Finally, Carole describes the current trends and relations among sport, employment and education: “The employers are often seeking well trained employees/ volunteers able to match the requirements of more demanding customers/participants. The sector is broad, fragmented and dynamic: education and training systems has to adapt to guarantee the development of a competent workforce, through new approaches and curricula. On one hand, we have observed gaps and mismatches between the educative offer and the labour market needs. On the other hand, we noticed positive trends, such as including in the curricula also “entreuprenarial skills developement”. Our approach is based on analysis of labour markers and occupational standards, definition of skills/competences needed, development of curricula and education models, recognition of skills and competences.”


France – Art des rencontres sportives

Through its strategy “Art des recontres sportives” (art of sport meetings), the French Government seems to be ready to connect the the Euro2016 with other major international sporting events that will be organised in the near future in France, such as the World Handball Championship in 2017, the Golf Ryder’s Cup in 2018 and the Women’s Football Cup in 2019, on top of regular international sport events taking place every year, as the Tour de France or the tennis tournament in Roland Garros. The political focus is to bid for Paris to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024. In this perspective, the French authorities seem to be willing to strategically promote social cohesion, inclusion and dialogue in/through sport at every level. As well as gain experience in hosting major sport events, becoming a “sport meeting point” for people and cultures. In this frame, the Ministry of Sport, in partnership with different NGOs, has launched the campaign “coup de sifflet” (whistle), aimed by raising awareness on discriminatory language in sport: the campaign is supported by many NGOs and testimonials.

Also the Euro2016 – the slogal was “Le rendez vous” (meeting, appointment) – and the Municipality of Paris seem to share the key message of “togheterness”. In facts, on the 7th of June, Jamie Monaghan, a young supporter with disability, received in behalf of the the Republic of Ireland’s fans, the « Grand Vermeil Medal », honour given by the city of Paris, for the exemplary, positive, friendly and joyful behaviour  showed by the fans during the tournament. It was probably needed by the city, still somehow « afraid », « vulnerable » to panic behaviours, as proven during the Quarter final’s match between Italy and Germany, when thousands of people were at the Fan Zone under the Eiffel tower: suddenly the crowd located in the front started to run towards the exit located in the back – probably for a flare; many people that were watching the match sitting were overwhelmed by the crowd.


What happens at the grassroot level?

“The 19th arrondissement is the poorest part of Paris, our main issue is the unemployment: people don’t have a lot of money, especially the young ones don’t know what to do in their spare time. We also have some problems with racism, tensions between different religious communities, homophobia and sexism: in the 19th gay people can’t walk hands in hands, there are some places where women don’t go, since young guys are making comments, as “whore” if she wears a mini-skirt” said Andrea Fuchs, the Counciler for Gender Equality, anti-discrimination and human rights in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, the closest to Saint Denis. “Sport is definitively one of the solutions – continues Fuchs –  especially for young people: when they practice sport, they learn how to respect the others and how to respect the rules. They also learn that hard work pays off, in sport, in school and in life. Moreover, especially for girls, the sport is important for health: in the neighburhood, women are more often obese because of lack of physical activity. In particular, football can play a role since it is a popular sport: to play, you only need some space, and a ball. The “champions” can act as role-model, but unfortunately they are mostly men: there is not enough mediatization of women sport, especially football. This is too bad for girls, because they also need role-models, to show them that they can be successfull in sport, that it can be a career for them or that they can just practice. We are therefore working with different stakeholders to educate through sport. Our goal is to make the children play together: male and female, blacks, whites, Muslims, Arabs, Jews and so on. We have a partnership with schools, but also with PSG: they support sporty and cultural activities for youngsters, across Paris and in the banlieu: I am happy that the only girl program is on the 19th. They spent properly some of their money, they are aware that many things need to be done to promote integration. On the other hand, they are also seeking for new talents”.


Euro2016 as a tool to educate?

On the 7th of July was very sunny and hot in Paris. In front of the Municipality, the «Agora – Place de l’Europe» took place: many countries qualified for Euro2016 presented their culture and heritage. In this context, the French Federation Sportive Gay and Lesbian organised the panel discussion on fighting against different discrimination in football, which engaged different experts. The panel was moderated by Sylvain Coopman, president of the FSGL: «We are fronting many problems in this period – including racism, sexism, homophobia, discrimination towards disability and others, present both in sport and society. Sport can be a tool to help to cancel the discrimination, since we can all play together, regardless of gender, age, religion and so on. Many people understand discrimination when they are discriminated, but not when they can be discriminators: when working with young people, we firstly ask to reflect upon how though is to be discriminated, then we challenge them to realise that sometimes – also unconsciously – they can be discriminators. This model seems to work».

What activities have you organised during the Euro2016? Coopman: “For the first time we had “Pride Houses” in four cities – Nice, Marseille, Paris and Lyon: we tried to do different activities and actions on different levels. For example, we had two-days high conference with the University of Lyon about discrimination in sport and society, we had academic researches, many people from Minisitries, Municipalities, different sport bodies. The key idea of the “Pride House” is simple: we invite people to come together, to enjoy sport together, to share emotions, joy and feelings together, learning from each others, being free and respectful of the differences.”

What are the main barriers, in your opinion? Coopman: “To work in France is relatively easy, since many authorities and partners are pleased to co-work with us. In other contexts it can be more difficult. For example, it will be more difficult in Russia for the World Cup of 2018: the laws are different and not really tollerant. Moreover, people tend to be more aggressive. Looking at the society at large, main issue is the law: it is not just about homosexuality, it is about respect of human rights. Also in Quatar we can have problems”

What are your next steps? “In Paris, in two years, we will have the 10th worldwide Gay Games: it will be an event important for us, for the city of Paris, for the Region and for the whole France. In August there are not so many people in Paris: we will fill the city with 50.000 people. The Gay Games are not only about sport but also about culture: we will try to deliver a message of inclusion and tolerance. The Games are not based on the performance, but it is about making your best. It is a different model of sport.”

Everyone of us can belong to different groups, the line between majority and minority or advantaged/disadvantaged can be indeed thin, sometimes: “Our objective – concludes Coopman – is not to change people’s mind, especially people having polarized, intolerant and homophobic positions. Our approach is more related to opennes a dialogue. Our slogan was “Against discrimination let’s do sport togheter”: I have proposed to take away the first part, so to deliver positive message and to be more inclusive: we want to play together, having fun togheter and getting to know other people”.


And the football world?

Cyril Pellevat is the administrator of the UEFA Foundation for children: “Football generates consistent revenues through the main competitions, as Champions League, Europea League and European Championship. Through the Foundation, we want to “give back” to the society and to the children. We are aware that football is a powerful universal language, it can “speak” to everybody”. The (independent) Foundation was created in 2005 with the goal of helping children and safeguard their rights, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and uses football and sport as tools of development. It is one of the main regular intervention of UEFA: according to the global dimension of football, 50% of the budget supports project in the UEFA Area (55 European countries), the rest across the world.

UEFA established also social responsibility and sustainability programs for the Euro2016, based on three goals (reduce environmental impact, integrate the social dimension and measure the economic impact) and 8 priorities (respect access for all; respect for health – tobacco-free tournament; respect diversity – anti-discrimination match monitoring; respect fans culture; respect environment; efficient mobility; waste management; energy/water optimisation; sourcing of products and services). Each goal and each priority were implemented in any dimension of the event. The main CSR partners were four: Football Against Racism Europe (pan-European network of organizations and activists aimed by fighting discrimination in/through football), Football Supporters Europe (cross-European network of football supporters); Healthy Stadia Network (organisation aimed by implementing healthy policies in stadia) and the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (center aimed by promoting and improving accessibility of stadia for disabled football fans across Europe).

Among the field of interventions of UEFA, the field of disability can be considered as one of the most successful interventions through the last European Championships. In order to make football more accessible is necessary to work along the full process of participation to a football match: from the ticket sales to the come back home of the fans. The idea is to work on different levels, with different partners and considering a wide spectrum of disabilities and impairments. In facts, many infrastructures built for the last European championship in Poland and Ukraine (for example accessible transport), have allowed many people with disability to be more independent and to easily participate to sport and societal dynamics also after the championship.

Among the journalist accredited at Euro2016, there is also Yanis Bacha: “According to UEFA, the accessibility is a priority: this is very good for people with disability, probably Euro2016 is the best competition for people with disability ever organised. More in general, while speaking about accessibility in football, we can see very different levels from country to country”. Yanis, who works for Canal+ and provided blind and visually impaired fans with audio-commentary, explains the accessibility measurements of Euro2016: “The audio description is the most important measure, it was made by the French Federation of Blind people, in partnership with Belgium partners. We as commentators went through a training of three months supervised by the UEFA: it would be great if we could extend this activity also to the domestic leagues in France and Belgium”. According to CAFE, 50% of all disabled people have never participated in leisure or sport activities. Moreover one third of the disabled population has never travelled abroad or even participated in day-excursions because of inaccessible venues and services. CAFE also estimates that at least 500.000 disabled people within the extended UEFA European region are likely to be active football supporters with many more aspiring to become match going supporters: in facts, disabled people have the right to enjoy football, sports and all forms of entertainment in the same way as everyone else. Many people might wonder why Portugal and Wales played both with away teams during the first semi-final: a tweet of the Association of Color Blinded People thanked UEFA to have accepted their request, since the combination red (Portugal, home kit) and black-green (Wales, away kit) wasn’t good for color blinded fans. “Comparing to the past – concludes Yanis -, the situation has improved, especially in France where we have new stadia: people with disability were consulted since the planning and have priority access in many stadia. The players of Euro2016 wear a banner with written “respect”: it is very important, because it refers to people with disability, to people from different countries, to everyone. In my opinion, the most positive point of this Euro is the integration of everybody: everybody could participate to the event”. Worth mentioning that a physical disability and mobility impairment hasn’t been an obstacle for Yanis to work as journalist during the whole tournament.


Temporary conclusions

Euro2016 was the first major tournament won by Portugal, a team capable to combine its traditional ball possession skills and good attacking attitude with tactic discipline and careful defense (maybe for the first time in its history). It was a great joy for many Portuguese people, including the community in France – large and somehow integrated. Portugal won only one match in 90′: this might show a bit of luck, but also consistent mental and athletic strengths. The final, beside the French and Portuguese supporters, was a sort of referendum “pro” or “against” Cristiano Ronaldo, who was forced to be substituted for an injury in the very first part of the match. Anyway, as Capitain of Portugal, CR7 had the pleasure to lift the cup to the French sky, few days after Messi’s decision to resign from the Argentina National Team, since he has failed again to lead the team to the victory of a major tournament. Many people will still say that Ronaldo didn’t contribute much to the victory, other people will affirm that he is a great footballer. What will remain of Euro2016? A lot of words, discussion and opinions.

Euro2016 was also a remarkable attempt to transform a series of happening of young adults from different countries running after a ball into an event having positive social impact at different level by creating cross-sector and cross-border partnerships. The potential of football as tool of change is well known, especially in relation with (young) people and especially those belonging to disadvantaged, vulnerable and marginalised groups. What will remain of Euro2016? The lesson that the hosting context and the engagement of different stakeholders are key successful factors in properly organising mass-sport events.

But this Euro2016 was a phenomenon capable to engage huge crowds, millions of people located across the whole globe. People ready to dream, to identify themselves with the players, people ready to forget about everything for 90′ and just enjoy watching football. Euro2016 offered opportunity to spend time with others, to socialise, to have fun – maybe also to travel abroad, discovering new countries, new cultures and new places. Meeting new people, doing something different. If we ask people how was to watch or to be part of Euro2016, we will get a wide range of answers: most of them will include joy, surprise, disappointment, sufferance, tension, happiness, proud, boredom. What will remain of Euro2016? The joy and proud of the winner, the sadness and disappointment of the looser. And the message that football is a human factor, able to overcome language barrier and to stimulate human feelings. While watching football, we have all similar experiences and reactions. We all like(d) to play and the ball has a unique power to connect people. It is about the “game”, the“childhood”, the “imagination”, the “instinct” of the human beings.

Because we have all similar feelings and have dreams. Also if we speak different languages, belong to different cultures, have different beliefs and have different backgrounds. But we are all members of the human family. Also if sometime we forget about it.


Photo: Antonio Saccone

This article was originally published in Slovenian translation in Razpotja magazine issue No. 24 (summer 2016).