Madame Commissioner Mariya Gabriel,
Esteemed Members of EU High Level Group on Gender Equality,
It is my great pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to speak at this occasion.
Madame Commissioner, let me wish you personally, and your team, success in your work for a more equal Europe. We have a lot to do. It is important that all stakeholders are included.
My congratulations to the nominated group members! There is a lot of high-level expertise in this group. Countries and national sport organizations are at different levels speaking about gender equality.
Sport women from different countries have contacted me telling how tired they are to fight! How tired they are to wait for the change. Often there is a lack of openness and democracy – and ignorant leadership.
The New Strategic Action Plan on Gender Equality for the years 2021 – 2025 is an important step forward. It is also a sport political motion at the highest level. We, representatives of sport organizations, are proud that our voice has been heard. It is our political will and wish to continue the work at the EU level. To make Europe more equal.
This is one way to raise the voice and attention of sport women. It is the way to help women in the sport movement. EU highlights the role of co-operation with institutions and organizations on grassroot level. This gives the opportunity to very different sport organizations to speak on behalf of their members.
The sport movement is much more than elite sport and sport organizations. It is a popular movement, too. Together our voice is more diverse, more strong and more effective. I do hope that the result will be a vibrant political strategy for the future and a statement with real influence. It is important that it will be known in your own countries at the political and sport organisation level.
In my thinking everything starts at the grassroot level, in sport clubs, in national organizations and continues to the international, European and global, level.
When Greta Thunberg started her demonstration in front of the Swedish Parliament, she explained her motivation as follows:
Grownups speak one thing and do another. In reality they do not care. People believe progress is made while it is not. Decision-makers behave like children, they do not take responsibility. Therefore, we children must take responsibility.Greta Thunberg
I agree with Greta. With other words: we women have to take the responsibility.
At an early stage I learnt that the speeches and acts of sport did not meet. Contradictions cause irritation, confusion and anger. I understood that one must clarify for oneself how decisions really are made and how you can influence them.
I had to understand the context, to listen to many people, to understand underlying causes and not to accept given answers. I forced myself to look behind the scenes and to elucidate connections. One has to be interested in sport politics.
I have very often been “that difficult woman”. Tens of times I have been alone or been left alone when I have not been willing to make compromises that would have sacrificed my values. I have been belittled, I have met opposition or even pressure when I have defended them.
It has been worth it. I have not sold or betrayed them.
Women in sport around the world have felt the same. We had enough of not being heard and together we organised the Brighton Conference in the UK in 1994. Long before that women had fought for their right to do sport. It is important that we know our history.
Now, 30 years later, we want to influence decisions that concern us. We want to promote our rights to be treated equally in sport organisations. We want to participate in strategic work on sport, and to participate in decision-making. We want to lead.
If you want change, you must be brave and ready to walk the talk.
In the last years we have experienced great sport events and games.
At the same time the news feed brings in sport leaders involved in corruption, match-fixing and deceit, exploitation and harassment of athletes and manipulation of decisions.
Lack of democracy is seen as treading on human rights. All of this is harmful to the sports movement and affects its appreciation. Autonomy does not mean living outside of criticism. Modern communication is ruthless, fast and global.
It is not indifferent how sport handles its home base. Citizens do not accept using tax money to support unethical activities. I think the international sport movement needs to work stronger on development and change. Ethical and human rights issues need to be at the forefront in recruiting leaders, in leadership and in operations.
In Greta’s words: Now people understand that changes must be made. You have the opportunity to influence and decide, she said to President Macron at the Elysée Palace. Although she wondered whether her English was understood? Was the microphone on?
Fast solutions are not possible in today’s complex decision-making processes – contemporary sport is as complex as society. Study your operating environment and the influence of political realities. Learn to understand the vast fields of sport and the people who work there.
You are now members of the EU High Level Group on Gender Equality. I hope that this Group will get things to happen.
If you want to be heard and seen you will have to function differently from your environment. The higher you rise the harder the game. At the top you are lonely even if there are many people around you. You will have to tolerate uncertainty, being away from your family, waiting at airports and the loneliness of hotels. You will not succeed alone. Hundreds of times I have needed allies to change sport leadership.
Often have I had to return to the question why I do this work. My answer has again and again been: for the children and young people, the builders of the future. Be courageous and patient and true to your values. Get enthusiastic and inspire, cooperate and learn again and again.
Sport leadership is a true endurance sport. Bon voyage to you all!