Ministry of Sports – Worthless without an active state sports policy
Sport is sport and politics is politics. It may be that it is a bit old-fashioned, but there are also some things that are worth sticking to. It must be the sports organizations’ own task to decide their attitudes to political issues”. This statement, which was made a few months ago by Minister of Culture Mrs. Joy Mogensen in connection with a debate in the Danish Parlament on the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2022 in football in the dictatorial state of Qatar, is among this year’s most naive political statements. But the statement is unfortunately also an expression of the ultra-defensive positition that both the current and previous governments in the last decade have had towards a state sports policy.
“Blind” trust in sports organizations
Sports organizations such as the Sport Confederation of Denmark (DIF) and DIF’s federations, Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations (DGI) and the Danish Company Sports Confederation (DFIF) have throughout decades fought for a clear division of roles and division of labor in relation to the state: The state must “invest” as many as possible resources (money) in the sports organizations, which “carried by volunteers”, in turn, must contribute to the “best interests of society” without government interference. This separation has only been challenged quite a few times when the sports organizations – nationally and internationally – have not been able to independently solve certain tasks satisfactorily. Establishment of state institutions such as Team Denmark (1985), The Danish Foundation for Culture and Sports Facilities (1993), Anti Doping Denmark (2004) and The Danish Institute for Sports Studies (2004) are examples where changing governments and the Danish Parlament have assumed (co)responsibility for legislation through the “challenges” and development of sport. Otherwise, trust in and respect for the autonomy and sovereign self-determination of sports organizations has been widespread among the political parties. Yes – it has actually been close to “blind”.
State subsidies for sports through funds are only historically
The state support for sports is completely unique compared to other recipients of state support. The reason for this is purely historical. The starting point for state subsidies for sports was the introduction of pools on the results of Danish football matches in the late 1940s, when a state company was established: Dansk Tipstjeneste A / S (today “Danske Spil”). The profits from the pools on football matches should go to the children and youth work in the sports organizations. And the reason was that the sport made matches available for pools. The distribution of profits between the organizations was primarily determined on the basis of the size of the organizations in the form of association and membership numbers. These basic principles have – even after the introduction of the lottery in the late 1980s – been in force. However, there is no logical justification for maintaining this particular form of funding, as virtually all the means of distribution today are related to lottery, scratch cards and games at international matches and championships, both in and out of sport. For this reason, the state’s subsidies for sports – both for established sports organizations such as DIF, DGI and DFIF and state institutions such as Team Denmark, Anti Doping Denmark and the Local and Civil Engineering Fund – just like all other areas of society should be regulated by the Finance Act.
Sports organizations have a real monopoly on state subsidies
State subsidies by the Finance Act will also give the elected politicians, (culture)minister and the government the opportunity to continuously decide on the scope and distribution of state support for sports. However, the establishment of a Ministry of Sports will require an active state sports policy with a government and a resort minister as an offensive partner and opponent, both towards the voluntary sports organizations, the state sports institutions and all other actors in sports. Today, Danish sports are unfortunately totally dominated by the two largest sports organizations’ real monopoly on state subsidies. In the last decade, despite completely changed sports patterns, both among children, young people, adults and the elderly, DIF and DGI have succeeded in convincing virtually all political parties through conscious, strategic cooperation and targeted political lobbying. The sports organizations – “only” they are granted a sufficient amount of money – can solve virtually all sports, exercise and health tasks. An example of this is the campaign “Move for life”, which is based far more on rhetoric and advertising slogans than on analyzes and research. It was unwise when the previous government, with the support of a broad majority in the Danish Parlament in 2014, chose to leave all initiative and finances to the DIF/DGI cartel in the form of a freeze on state subsidies for a period of more than 10 years. The vision that “… Denmark must be the world’s most sports-active nation” sounds immediately very sympathetic and attractive, but it is just as immeasurable and unvarnished as the statement that “Danes must be the world’s happiest population”.
State subsidies “overlook” new forms of activity and organization
The freezing of state subsidies for more than ten years is also a gigantic political failure of the many new entrepreneurs, innovators and facilitators who have emerged outside the organized association life in recent decades. Self-employed entrepreneurs, innovative companies, digital services, non-traditional facilities and networks for the socially disadvantaged have created fertile ground for new sports activities that can neither – nor should – be offered and taken care of by the established sports organizations. Sports organizations such as DIF and DGI have many, valuable qualities, but the state should also relate to and possibly provide financial support for new forms of activity and organization, which can supplement the traditional associations and perhaps even (re)vitalize sports as a dynamic cultural phenomenon.
Great need for new state legislation on elite sports
Also in elite sports, there is a great need for a far more offensive state sports policy. The Minister of Culture, the Government and the Parlament have just wasted an obvious opportunity for a thorough revision of the Act on Elite Sports in connection with the so-called “swimming case”. Instead of a few modest additions to the existing law, one should to a much greater extent relate to the location and development of Danish elite sports in an international context, where professionalization, globalization and not least a violent commercialization have created significantly greater inequalities between individuals. sports and made visible a number of “shadow pages” of elite sports such as corruption, match-fixing, the sale of clubs to international private equity funds and the profiling of dictatorial regimes through sporting events. These are issues that any responsible government should deal with and not, as today, leave “sovereign” to the sports organizations or “close their eyes to”.
Sport is also politics
If there is no political ability, courage and willingness among the political parties and the government to challenge the real monopoly of the two largest sports organizations as well as to relate to developments in international elite sports, there is absolutely no reason to set up an independent sports ministry. A state sports policy requires both visions and ongoing discussions about the goals and strategies of sports, which go far beyond the sports organizations’ (own) interest and ability. And with that also a (culture) minister and a government that recognizes and appreciates that sport is also politics.