#ESP2021: Interview with Ms Florencia Van Houdt

Ahead of the European Sport Platform 2021, we spoke with Ms Florencia Van Houdt, Head of the Unit for Sport at the European Commission, to discuss the new initiative, EU funding, equality and more.

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For Europeans, sport is an important, if not crucial part of the Covid-19 recovery. Also, grassroots sport clubs play a crucial role in making Europeans more active & therefore healthy. In your opinion, how can an initiative such as HealthyLifestyle4all contribute to encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles, after we have experienced the widespread pandemic?


The Commission’s new HealthyLifestyle4All initiative combines action to encourage people to take up a healthy lifestyle with measures to remove barriers to participation in sport and physical activities and efforts to link up different policy areas, such as sport, education, health, food, agriculture and others. It aims to reach all generations, from young to the less young and all social groups, with a special focus on disadvantaged groups.


The Commission will amongst others create a new #BeActive Across Generations Award; launch a Mobile App for cancer prevention; elaborate a food ingredients database containing information on the nutritional quality of food products; address healthy and sustainable diets, and stress the importance of physical activity and mental health in schools. The Commission will also support projects that enhance health and healthy lifestyles through EU programmes including Erasmus+, the European Solidarity Corps, EU4Health and HorizonEurope.


Aside from the Commission’s own actions, this two-year initiative is co-created with civil society, non-governmental organisations, national, local and regional authorities and international bodies. All interested organisations can submit a pledge, announcing contributions and actions for Europeans to be more active and mindful of their health on the online Pledge Board.


The European Commission’s Directorate-General of Education, Youth, Sport, and Culture (DG EAC) sponsors many high-level and grassroots initiatives. What would be your advice to regional and local sport organisations and (grassroots) clubs, on how to best use those opportunities and funding available?


Next to fostering cooperation in education and youth, the Erasmus+ programme includes a yearly call for proposals to support various Sport Actions. Successful projects should fit within the remit of the programme’s overall goals and priorities and specifically address one of the sport-specific priorities. The programme’s horizontal priorities are inclusion and diversity, environment and fight against climate change, the digital transformation and civic engagement. Sport-specific priorities address participation in sport and physical activity and a healthy lifestyle; integrity and values in sport; education in and through sport; and the fight against violence, racism, discrimination and intolerance.


Sport Actions include cooperation partnerships to promote the creation and development of European networks in the field of sport. Such partnerships can for instance foster cross-border networks, promote best practices and raise awareness, or develop tools for educational purposes and capacity-building. For grassroots organisations and those less experienced in Erasmus+, there are dedicated ‘small-scale partnerships’. These offer smaller grants with a shorter duration and involve less administrative requirements. Finally, Erasmus+ offers support to organise not-for-profit European sport events with a European dimension.


When it comes to equality, inclusion and equal access to sport for all; in your opinion, what are some of the biggest issues the EU grassroots sport is facing today, and how is the European Commission addressing those challenges?


Sport and physical activity are good for everyone’s health and well-being. Yet, about half of adults in Europe never or seldom practice sport and the majority of children do not move enough. The barriers to being active can be multiple and diverse.


When it comes to the biggest issue that grassroots sport is facing, it is obviously the COVID-19 pandemic and the way it hit the whole sport sector. It led to sport facilities closing down, disconnecting members from their clubs and generating important losses for clubs and sport facilities. Even if the worst of the pandemic may be behind us, recovering from the its damaging effects will be a long-term challenge. The EU has made an array of funds available through the NextGenerationEU recovery instrument and the Multi-annual Financial Framework to support regions and cities in rebuilding communities and facilities.


Sport can also play a positive part in the recovery from the pandemic. Sport is a powerful tool for breaking down social barriers and building a more inclusive world. There are many people and organisations active in Europe with inspiring stories and compelling examples. This is why the Commission organizes every year an awards competition ‘#BeInclusive.


There are three prize categories

      • Breaking Barriers: This category is to reward projects that demonstrate resilience, with examples of overcoming obstacles to participation
      • Celebrating diversity: For sporting projects that demonstrate tolerance, with positive examples of different people, groups and collaborations which emphasise the benefits of understanding each other
      • Inspiring change: This prize category recognises projects that provide inspiration, telling positive stories of empowerment, with exemplary role models from disadvantaged groups who step up to lead change.


With a total prize fund of EUR15,000 for first, second and third placed winners in each category, the winner and finalists are chosen to inspire other organisations and individuals around Europe. Winners will be announced at a special ceremony.