Exclusive interview with Marite Seile

Exclusive interview with Marite Seile

Mrs Mārīte Seile is the Latvian Minister of Education, Science, Youth, Sports. Few days before the hand over of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union to Luxemburg, it is a pleasure and an honour for EOSE that she agreed to contribute highlighting key challenges and opportunities ahead with as special focus on the work led under the Latvian Presidency.

Education, Training and Employment but also Gender Equality, promotion of grassroots sports and tackling youth unemployment, these are some of the hot topics on which she offered us a priceless perspective.

Enjoy the read!


On the 16th of February 2015, the international conference “Sport and Physical Activity for Development of the Human Capital” took place in Riga. Being the key sport-related event of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the conference functioned as an instrument for implementing the European Work Plan for Sport 2014-2017. What are your overall expectations as regard to this European Work Plan for Sport? Can you please precise your vision and expectations towards one of the key topic of the Work Plan entitled “Education, training, employment and volunteering”?
MS: “From my point of view, the European Union Work Plan for Sport 2014-2017 is an instrument for every Member State and the EU as a whole to make sport fairer, more sustainable and inclusive and to become an integral part of the lives of the majority of European citizens as a precondition of a healthy, active and productive life. The Work Plan is also a contribution of the sports field to the goals set by the Europe 2020 Strategy. As it has been acknowledged that sport can contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth, namely equip people with additional skills and competences, as well as serve as an instrument for social cohesion and inclusion.
The links of sport to employment, education and training are highlighted in one of the three Work Plan’s priorities – Sport and Society – that is also the particular focus point of the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Physical activities in the framework of the educational process is a necessary component to provide quality education – balanced proportions of acquiring knowledge and physical activities help to protect a harmonious personal development of children and young people. Formal education is just one part of gaining skills useful for employment and life. Another way is gaining skills outside formal education, through informal activities. For example, voluntary activities in sport sector are mainly taking place on a grassroots level. Active involvement in a role of a participant, facilitator or organiser develops key personal skills and competences. While grassroots sport does not require large financial investments, I believe it can be a way for young people to gain such skills that are very useful in today’s labour market with its rapidly changing requirements. Member State cooperation on an EU level in expert groups, participation in conferences, studies of European Commission and various meetings is a great way to exchange ideas and discuss the examples of a good practice within the framework of the Work Plan for Sport. That will certainly promote positive trends in European human resource development.”


How would you describe the role of sport within the Latvian society and what are the main reasons to explain the decision of your country to organise such event related to sport under its Presidency of the Council?
MS: “At the end of 2013, new policy guidelines in sport where approved in Latvia with the leading motive – sport for the quality of life. Sport policy in Latvia focuses on four main directions – children and youth sports, high achievement or elite sports, sports for all, and sports for people with disabilities. These areas of activity reflect our priorities, aims, the importance and the role of sport in our society. Knowing the common tendencies around Europe, we are striving to create opportunities for children and youth to engage more in physical activities, especially by providing more mandatory physical education at all educational institutions. Promotion of the development of higher mastery of young athletes by engaging in professional sports training programmes at sports schools, sports clubs, sports gymnasiums and other sports organisations is also our point of focus. We support preparation of talented athletes and national teams and their participation at the Olympic Games, as well as at the world and European championships. Besides professional sport, we see the importance of making sport available for everyone, to create opportunities for each individual to engage in sports, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, mental or physical abilities. Unfortunately, physical activity rates are not significantly high, neither in Latvia nor in Europe at large. In Latvia, our aim is mass participation in sport at least once or twice a week by 2020, and we see grassroots sport as an essential tool to achieve this aim. During the last years, the number of grassroots sports events in Latvia has grown and no doubt is gathering quite significant number of participants. However, we still have a lot of work as we strive to elevate the physical activities rates, to increase the quantity of people doing sports regularly and to educate the society about sport as a foundation for a healthy and harmonious life.
Regarding the event that took place during the Latvian Presidency, I would like to emphasise that with the help of the international sport conference, the Latvian Presidency aimed at highlighting sport’s added value and importance in human capital development. The conference was organised as a platform where all stakeholders could share ideas, exchange of experience and best practise. We consider that by inviting international experts and participants from all EU Member States, and exchanging opinions and experience, we achieved our aim.”
For which main achievements would you like the Latvian Presidency to be remembered as regard to its contribution to the overall sport policy?
MS: “Although the semester for each Presidency sometimes is too short to make remarkable achievements, I would like to highlight the awareness rising at large. This is what we sometimes miss. We were very pleased by hosting the conference Sport and Physical Activity for Development of the Human Capital. The conference raised more discussions on sport’s multifaceted nature. By reaching the agreement among all the EU Member States, the Council Conclusions on maximising the role of grassroots sport in developing transversal skills, especially among young people where adopted at the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council on 18-19 May 2015. Conclusions call to raise awareness and visibility of the value of transversal skills gained through non-formal and informal learning via grassroots sport among young people. These “soft skills” as cooperation, communication, respect for rules, problem solving, understanding, networking with others and leadership are one of the instruments for promoting social cohesion and inclusion. Promotion of grassroots sport and its benefits in scope of education, employability and health is a step towards the goals set by the Europe 2020 Strategy.
As a contribution to the overall sport policy I would like to also mention the fruitful debate on anti-doping issues during the meeting of EU Sports Directors on February 17. Since the entry into force of the new World Anti-doping Code of 2015 adoption of national legislation to the Code is a new challenge for governments and National Anti-doping Organizations. In addition, during this meeting an item on how the non-traditional sport can be diversified and play an important role in attracting young people in sport was discussed. Here we specifically highlighted the role of street sports and its untapped potential with regard to attracting more young people to exercising more often and becoming more physically fit and healthy. Street sports is a culture bringing together urban life with the philosophy of a physically active lifestyle. The development of street sports makes an impact on city planning (an environment suitable for leisure activities), promotes social inclusion (opportunity for everyone to take part) and revitalizes remote city districts. The most well-known street sports are street ball, street football, parkour, skateboarding, BMX Freestyle and street workout.
It is important to diversify sporting activities thus widening the choice. It is of particular importance when it comes to young people as they are always with a renewed interest willing to try new and challenging things. In Latvia we have a lot of successful projects and movements, here I especially would like to mention Ghetto Games and the World Street Workout and Calisthenics Federation that has its origins in the Latvian Street Workout Sport Association.”
On the 10th of March 2015, you have been representing the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union at the annual Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. The session addressed the challenges affecting progress in gender equality and the empowerment of women, and reviewed the tasks required to achieve comprehensive gender equality by 2030. In your opinion, which role sport could play in this direction and what remain to be done to tackle such challenge?
MS: “Equality of men and women is one of the fundamental non-discrimination principles. Not being discriminated on the grounds of the gender is one of the fundamental human rights in every field. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women in its article 10 (g) states that women have the same rights for equal opportunities to participate actively in sports and physical education. Non-discrimination in sports is also one of the fundamental principles of the Latvian sports policy, as everyone has the right to engage in sports activities regardless of their age, ethnicity, race, religion, mental or physical abilities and gender. Sport is the area where individuals can demonstrate their capabilities regardless the gender, an area accessible to everyone to benefit by the sports activities in all levels. Sport is serving already as an inclusive and integrating element to unite the society.
All empowered institutions should acknowledge and keep in mind the positive aspects brought by the diversity and gender equality in sports and further advance the issue by providing research and analysis as well as maintaining the implementation of the already existing action plans, agreements and strategies to make sport more inclusive.”


The European Parliament recently set sport the challenge to demonstrate the impact it can have on young people. What do you expect from the sport and active leisure sector when thinking of the number 1 priority for the EU which is to tackle youth unemployment? To what extend do you think that sport can contribute to the strategic objectives of EU2020? According to you, what can the sector do to better demonstrate its impact?
MS: “Sport should be viewed as an integral part of wellbeing and the way to boost the potential of abilities through promoting a harmonious and well-balanced life. No doubt, our youth is the future of Europe, which is why we must take care to provide a harmonious development of young people and make all efforts to equip them with necessary skills for life.

As it has been acknowledged, sport is an important contributor to our economies, including also with regard to skills development and employment. Of course, sport or physical activities by itself are not a key element for tackling the youth unemployment. However, we see sport as one of the tools for development of the human capital in Europe. And here the added value of sport and successful strategies of tapping in its potential remain largely unknown and underutilised. Without significant investments and specific training background, everyone can participate in grassroots sport. It promotes healthy lifestyle and contributes to transversal skills that can enhance employability, as well as to personal and professional development of individuals. This corresponds well to the growth and jobs prerogatives embedded in the EU2020 Strategy. At a time of quickly changing demands in the labour market, employers highly value transversal skills, yet often indicate that new recruits are lacking such skills. One of the core elements within the human capital is individual’s skills and competences gained via non-formal or informal learning including sport. We should firstly create awareness among young people and their parents of the special value of the skills gained through sport. Sports sector could further step up its contribution through for example quality training and a possibility for sports specialists to make use of their knowledge and skills for the benefit of all society through investing in competent staff in sport that would use the most up-to date methods in their work to fully benefit from the additional values that sport is able to deliver. Exchanging best practice on how to foster and diversify the grassroots sport movement and develop new types of grassroots sport should be maintained.”


Last but not least, “Developing the Human Capital” was at the heart of the conference we here above mentioned, hence highlighting the importance of Human Resources in sport. This is something we, at EOSE, are advocating for many years now. To what extend do you consider it crucial for the sport and active leisure sector to have a workforce equipped with the right skills and competences and to adopt a promising and relevant approach to workforce development for both staff and volunteers? What would you recommend as short term priorities to achieve such ambition?
MS: “First and foremost, I would like to express my appreciation for the job done by EOSE so far. Being an active stakeholder in this field is a precondition for reaching our common goals. From my perspective as a Minister for sport, the main short-term objective should be creating opportunities for people to engage in sports according to one’s interests driven by an understanding of the positive role of sports regarding overall wellbeing. I am quite sure that opportunities is what lead people to the results.
However, to further strengthen these opportunities and positive outcomes, we need competent staff in the field of sport to inform, educate, and show an example to boost society’s interest in sports. We must provide better overall understanding on how physical activities can help to lead healthy lives. Focus on education of specialists who work with children and young people would be crucial. Awareness rising and encouragement of the development of knowledge, skills and competences among staff and volunteers, cooperation in standard rising in the education of trainers and coaches as well as volunteers by facilitating the exchange of information and experience between policy-makers and sport stakeholders would be the steps to promote a successful workforce development. Recognising sport volunteering as an important form of non-formal learning and reinforcing national and cross-border mobility of young volunteers would be a good asset in sports workforce development.”


Interview by Carole Ponchon, EOSE European PR & Projects manager

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