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The row must go on: report on the final conference of the Row the Boat Project, Arnhem, 7-8 February 2008.

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream. *

The final conference, which ended the project "Reinforce the Representativeness of the Social Partners in the Sport Sector: Row the Boat Project" (hereinafter "the RBT project") took place on two consecutive days at 7 and 8 February 2008 in Papendal Hotel and Conference Centre in Arnhem, the Netherlands.

The participants in the conference were formally divided in three categories--employers' representatives, employees' representatives and helpful stakeholders. Participants falling within all three categories had the chance to speak at the conference or to share their opinions during the sessions of the working groups. The conference was chaired by Allan Pilkington, who represented the SkillsActive--organization for employers in the professional, voluntary and commercial sport, member of the European Association of Sport Employers (EASE)--and also EOSE (European Observatoire of Sport and Employment).

Marie Leroux--the EASE President Delegate and RBT Project Manager--opened the conference with welcoming messages and continued with the presentation of the RBT Project. She outlined the current state of the social dialogue in the sports sector, noting that collective bargaining agreements had been concluded only in football and explained how the idea for the project had emerged. The main aim of the RBT project was developing the social dialogue in the European sports sector through the reinforcement of existing social partners. In addition, the RBT project pursued a second aim and it was to support the development of social partners in countries where the social dialogue in the sport sector is now emerging. The focus of the RBT project was not specifically on conclusion of collective bargaining agreements but rather on establishment of the framework for discussions between the social partners.

As a project perspective the organizations running the project envisaged the creation of a sport social dialogue committee at European level. The legal ground and possibility for establishment of such a committee is the Commission Decision on the Establishment of Sector Social Dialogue Committees following a request by representative European organizations of workers and employers, under which mechanism already 35 committees have come into existence. The aims of a sports social dialogue committee according to Marie Leroux shall include: giving a European recognition to the sports sector; defending the sports specificities; facilitating the development of European education and training solutions at the sectoral level; and reinforcing the professionalization of the sports sector. The recently published by the Commission White Paper on Sport was pointed out by Marie Leroux as a good opportunity for establishment of such a committee especially in view of the last recommendation therein saying that "The Commission encourages and welcomes all efforts leading to the establishment of European Social Dialogue Committee in the sports sector. It will continue to give support to both employers and employees and it will pursue its open dialogue with all sport organizations on this issue".

The project leader EASE was founded in 2003 and was meant as employers' organization in the sports sector at European level. It unites not only members from professional sport but also from the fitness, voluntary and outdoor segments of sport as an activity. EASE recognizes as its missions: understanding and defending the rights and interests of its members and generally employers in the sports sector; the harmonious development of the sports sector; participation in the sports social dialogue committee at European level; and negotiating on behalf of employers in sport at European level. EASE offers two types of membership. Full membership is open to employer groups and associations that are formally recognized within their own country as the representative body for employers within at least one sub-sector of sport. EASE has also associated members, which are still not recognized as representative social partners at national level or are constituted in countries, where social dialogue is not clearly established. The structure of EASE consists of 4 commissions--voluntary sport, professional sport, fitness and outdoors. Such division was necessary in view of the specifics of the issues of concern to each and every of the above categories of sport.

Further, Marie Leroux introduced to the audience the former projects wherein EASE acted as a project leader or was involved as a participant such as the project "Building the Social Dialogue in the Sport Sector at European level" in 2003/2004, VOCASPORT project in 2004 and the EUROSEEN project in 2003/2005. EASE, as a social partner, decided to get involved in 2 Leonardo da Vinci projects on the European Qualifications Framework, where the role of EASE was to represent the employers' voice.

The floor was given to Jim Wilson--the director of EURO-MEI. The link between his organization and the Union Network International (UNI)--the World Employers Organization, which regional branch UNI-Europa is an employees' organization at European level, was best and figuratively explained by him through the comparison with the traditional Russian dolls "matrioshki" made of wood. When you have such a Russian doll in your hands you may open it and find that there is another one inside, however, smaller and colored differently, if you open the second one you will see a third one smaller than the second and also colored in a different way and by continuing doing this exercise you will reach a doll not larger than a peanut. Likewise, in Jim Wilson's expression, UNI constitutes the biggest doll having several regional branches--UNI-Europa, UNI America etc. having in turn 13 individual sectors including the sector media, entertainment and arts sector UNI-MEI. Within UNI-Mei we will find the doll which we have been searching for--EURO-MEI, which represents the sector media, arts, entertainment and sports and is a merger partner of UNI--Europa. Jim Wilson presented 12 things or principles that govern and mark the work of EURO-MEI, which he called the Golden Dozen--freedom of expression, freedom of association, diversity in media and culture, international trade agreements, changing technology, new types of work, including a-typical workers, professional training, health and safety, consultation, social dialogue and eventually collective bargaining, intellectual property rights, social goals and organizational matters. Although not all of the priorities in the EURO-MEI work set out in the Golden Dozen are relevant to sport, EURO-MEI is the organization on the employees' side representing the sports sector and in this respect it is the corresponding social partner of EASE.

Marie Leroux continued with presentation of the structure of the project, the work fulfilled under the project and the practical results achieved. The RBT project envisaged identification of the existing social partners, which were to be approached simultaneously at 3 different levels. Level 1 encompasses social partners who are identified at national level and already affiliated at EU level. Level 2 includes social partners identified at national level but not affiliated at EU level. Level 3 targets countries where the sports social partners do not exist at the national level and are, of course, not affiliated at EU level. Under level 1 the existing social partners in football were contacted and informal meetings with EPFL, FIFPro and UEFA took place. Further, a meeting with professional sports representatives aiming to receive their feedback regarding the subjects they would like to have on the social dialogue agenda was held on 30 October 2007 in Brussels. Finally, on 17 January 2008 an informal social dialogue meeting in Brussels was organized for the purpose of discussing the potential agenda of the social dialogue committee and the ways of initiation of social dialogue. The outcome of all meetings under level 1 is to be reported in a feasibility study for a future application for the creation of a sports social dialogue committee, which had not been prepared as of the time of the final RBT conference.


The work under Level 2 included the organization of 6 round tables in the following countries: Spain, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Portugal and Austria, aiming to present the national social partners with the benefits of being affiliated at EU level. Some of the organizers of the meetings as well as helpful stakeholders from the targeted countries had the opportunity to share their observations and impressions about the meetings at the conference. It became clear, for instance, that in Italy there is no representative organization on the employers' side. In Austria such organization is the Chamber of Commerce which was noted as something odd in comparison with France, for instance, where chambers of commerce are not recognized as social partners.

The work under Level 3 aimed meeting with local structures and authorities and bringing them expertise and knowledge of creating national employer and employee organizations. It comprised 4 country visits--Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic. The targeted stakeholders were NOCs, sports federations, Ministries of Sport, of Youth, of Employment, social partners, sports lawyers and university teachers. As a result of the meetings a report on the feasibility of creating national employer and employee organizations has been prepared although at the time of the conference it was presented still as a draft.

The project results reported at the RBT conference were split in several directions. First, the project provided an overview of the social partners' organizations operating in the sports sector in the EU Member States. In particular, the project resulted in creating an RBT Database of the social partners in the EU-27 plus the non-member states Norway, Switzerland and Turkey, divided per country in accordance with their type--employee or employer organizations as well as according to the sports segment they belong to--voluntary sport, professional sport, fitness, and outdoors. Furthermore, information cards on social dialogue for each target country and overviews of the sports systems in the EU made under the preliminary research for the project were prepared. Secondly, the project reinforced the link between EASE and EURO-MEI and established contact with the professional football partners and representatives (Level 1). Thirdly, it strengthened the European social partners representing the whole sports sector and increased their representativeness (Level 2). Finally, the project contributed to structuring employer and employee organizations in the countries where the social dialogue in sports is emerging (Level 3). The general outcome of the project was said to be the increase of the level of mutual knowledge on social dialogue in the sports sector in Europe. In particular, a table named "Social partners and helpful stakeholders met during the RBT meetings" was distributed to the participants.

The last speaker for the 1st conference day was Heinrich Wollny from the Unit Social Dialogue and Industrial Relations, DG for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities of the European Commission as representative of the institution which financed the RBT Project. The discussions following Mr. Wollny's presentation continued during the two working groups of the RBT Final Conference--one for the employee side and the other for the employer side. Issues such as what should be a sectoral social dialogue committee, what subjects to be dealt at EU level, what happens after the Final Conference and other questions and comments from the participants were discussed.

The second day of the conference started with a welcoming message of the Director of the Dutch National Olympic Committee and also a Board Member of the Dutch Employers' Organization for the Sports Sector (WOS) Marcel Sturkenboom, who stressed the importance of the event for the entire sports sector and highlighted the advantages of Papendal as one of the top sporting centers, which second choosing for venue of the RBT Conference has turned it into a milestone for the social dialogue in the sports sector. Andrzej Rogulski from the Sport Unit with the DG for Education and Culture delivered a presentation on the White Paper on Sport pointing out that it constitutes the culmination of a long process starting with the Amsterdam Declaration in 1997 as well as an important step towards the integration of sport in the Reform Treaty.

The presentation of the first speaker marked as helpful stakeholder apart from the representatives of the Commission Drs. Paul Ruijsenaars gave a very important insight from athletes' perspective into the need of social dialogue in the sports sector and this way he indeed justified the helpful stakeholder label. Being a former basketball player, who has dedicated 24 years to that game and played international basketball for the international team of the Netherlands, Drs. Ruijsenaars expressed his sincere pain for the current situation of sportsmen accused in anti-doping rules violations, his deep concern about the undemocratic according to him legal form of the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) where the voice of athletes is suppressed, his big desire for a strong international union of athletes to claim a modern co-management position in all sports organizations including WADA and his hope that doping regulation might become subject of the social dialogue in sport allowing athletes to shape by themselves the law which affects them most.

The conference continued with disclosure of the feedback from the working groups made by Bernadette Segol, UNI-Europa Regional Secretary and Marjolein Oorsprong, EURO-MEI Coordinator of the sports sector, on the employee side and by Marie Leroux, on the employer side. The conclusion was that a follow up of the RBT project is needed. Whereas the RBT project focused on the structure of the social dialogue the new project should focus on the content of the social dialogue. Further, request for establishment of a social dialogue committee in sports sector has to be submitted. Marjolein Oorsprong announced the joint intention of EURO-MEI and EASE to apply for the new project within the deadline for the next call of proposals set by the Commission with respect to projects concerning social dialogue and industrial relations on 14 March 2008. This decision of the social partners may be summarized as "The Row Must Go On".

At the end, Marie Leroux, Bernadette Segol and Leif Nicklagard, the Assistant General Secretary of UNIONEN--a big trade union in Sweden and member of EURO-MEI, introduced the Joint Declaration on the mutual recognition of European social partners in the sports sector, which was solemnly signed by Bernadette Segol and Jim Wilson for the employee side and Marie Leroux and Rene Van Der Burg, EASE General Secretary, for the employer side and was met with applause by all participants.

In this way, the representatives of the social partners similarly to the singers performing the English nursery rhyme quoted in the beginning of this report sat opposite one another and started rowing forwards and backwards with joined hands. The lyrics of the song could serve as a guideline for the future routine and destiny of the boat. The first line "Row, row, row your boat" symbolizes the efforts that are needed to direct the vessel. The 3 times repetition illustrates the past, present and future that are made worthwhile by those efforts. The line further suggests that drifting is never an option and everything which is worthwhile takes pains in order to be fulfilled. The second line "Gently down the stream" implies that efforts must be laid with wisdom, by choosing the right streams and not fighting the current. The third line "Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily" shows that despite the hardships and the limitation of choices the efforts must be laid in a joyous disposition of spirit. It would not be that easy and probably this is the reason for the four times repetition of the word merrily. And the last line "Life is but a dream" is determined as the wisest but also the most nihilist since it implies the meaningless of man's actions. This final line reminds me what Drs. Paul Ruijsenaars said during his presentation. He said "Conferences like this one are always in front of crossroads: what structure, what issues for events, for content of social dialogue. Making a choice at a crossroad on a flat planet would make a difference. But since we live on a round planet in the end a choice for whatever direction leads to a point where you once started. In the worst case you shoot yourself in the back". Drs. Paul Ruijsenaars as one of the leaders of the fight of sportsmen against the doping "inquisition" in sport as he described WADA probably best feels the wisdom and the sadness of this last line.

In order to avoid this bitter acknowledgement, however, and make the song more appropriate for audience of children the last line is very often sung as "life is like a dream" rather than "life is but a dream". I think that the song of the social partners in the European social dialogue in sport could use this second version. The belief in the future of the social dialogue in sport should not be childish although the people who believe in the purity and sacredness of contemporary sport are probably naive as children. As John Lennon used to sing "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I am not the only one"; after all, everything good in this world starts as a dream. The Row Must Go On.

* English nursery rhyme, and a popular children's song, often sung as a round, where singers sit opposite one another and 'row' forwards and backwards with joined hands.

Boris Kolev is a Co-chairman of the Bulgarian NGO Bulgarian Legal Society.
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Title Annotation:CONFERENCES
Publication:The International Sports Law Journal
Article Type:Conference notes
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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