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Sport and physical activity in the European Union

Written by Ivana Katsarova,
Infographics: Samy Chahri,

The European Week of Sport kicks off for the third round

The European Commission launched the European Week of Sport back in 2015, to raise awareness of the role and benefits of sport and physical activity. Since then, nearly 9 million Europeans took part in 33 000 events in the 32 participating countries across Europe. The idea, which originated in a 2011 European Parliament resolution, is an EU-wide initiative, led by the European Commission and implemented at EU, national, regional and local levels. This year’s edition will officially kick off in Tartu (Estonia) on 23 September 2017.

Why do we need an EU initiative on physical activity?

The low levels of physical activity among both children and adults in the European Union (EU) are alarming, and have become a matter of great concern for policymakers. Physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth risk factor for global mortality, provoking 6 % of cases of coronary heart disease, 7 % of type 2 diabetes, 10 % of breast cancer, 10 % of colon cancer, and thus causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally. There is a strong and growing body of evidence indicating that regular physical activity is one of the cornerstones of adult health. The World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults and 60 minutes per day for children.

Download this infographic on ‘Sport and physical activity in the European Union‘ in PDF.

See also our Topical Digest on ‘EU sport policy and issues‘.

An early start is of the essence

Mandatory physical education activities in primary school

Mandatory physical education activities in primary school

Initiating children to physical activity from an early age is important since it helps them to grow, learn and develop. More importantly, it helps them remain physically active as they get older, because physical activity will already be an important part of their life. Outside school, opportunities to be active in daily life are decreasing. This is due to a combination of low availability of safe and accessible places for physical activity, lack of adult support, supervision and guidance, and to the increasing popularity of the car as a mode of transport and the computer or television screen as a mode of recreation. Given the extensive periods children spend in school and the fact that up to 80 % of them only practice sport in school, schools become instrumental in promoting physical activity.

Being physically active at school

Physical education is part of all central curriculum frameworks in the EU, and is compulsory in primary and secondary education. However, on average, just under 70 hours per year are dedicated to the subject, and the time allocated to physical education is around only one third of that dedicated to the language of instruction and around half of that for mathematics. Generalists or specialists teach physical education at primary level, with specialists being the norm at secondary level.

recommendations regarding the specialisation required to teach physical education in primary and secondary schools, 2011-2012

Erasmus+: creating opportunities for children and adults

In May 2014, the Council adopted a new three-year EU work plan for sport. For the first time, financial support for sport is now included in the form of a specific chapter in Erasmus+ – the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for the 2014-2020 period. The allocation amounts to around €265 million over the entire period.

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