In the wake of global uncertainties: the EOA Congress Vilnius in review

“The Olympic Movement in a Changing World”, the topic of this year’s EOA Congress held in Vilnius from 8-11 November 2023, was reflected in extensive debates and lectures on topics from human rights, and autonomy of sport to safeguarding. In addition to the discussions and a unique cultural programme, the members of the European Olympic Academies (EOA) approved the admission of four new NOAs to its circle and confirmed new procedures for the commissions.

The 11 November 2023 saw the successful closing of the EOA Congress Vilnius, which once again brought together the National Olympic Academies of Europe to debate pressing issues in Olympic Values Education and share common practices among each other. The Lithuanian Olympic Academy (LOA) was able to create an attractive programme with cultural elements and exceptional hospitality that promoted its country among the delegates and beyond.

What happened on the first day?

The congress was opened by the hosting LOA President Prof. Dr. Asta Sarkauskiene and EOA President Prof. Dr. Manfred Laemmer. Isidoros Kouvelos, IOA President, Saulius Galadauskas, Vice President of the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee and Rolandas Zuoza, Leader of the Sport Unit in the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, Science and Sport delivered welcoming addresses. Edvinas Eimontas from the Lithuanian Sports University moderated and chaired the opening and following sessions.

The first session “Peace, War and Human Rights: The Responsibility of the Olympic Movement” was opened by Tomasz Frankowski, Coordinator of the European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education, who in his video message clearly positioned himself on the moral obligation to protect the values of the European sports model. Sylvia Schenk, IOC Human Rights Advisory Commission, presented the relevance of human rights in the Olympic Movement and its responsibility in the context of the Olympic peace mission in times of war.

“The Olympic Movement has to rethink political neutrality.”
Sylvia Schenk, Independent Member of the IOC Human Rights Advisory Commission

Further presentations by Prof. Dr. Mariia Bulatova, President of the Olympic Academy of Ukraine, dealt with the impact of the war with Russia on Ukrainian sport from 2014 to the present day and how organised sport has dealt with these challenges. Dr. Olga Kuvaldina from Klaipeda University identified the most important needs of Ukrainian Olympic sports in terms of the continuity of athletes’ training, security and infrastructure, while Prof. Dr. MD Olena Turos from the Marzeiev Institute Kyiv focused on the environmental consequences of the war and the impact on youth and sport in her online transmission.

Medal of Merit and EOA Flame Awards presented

In the evening, the first awards ceremony in the history of the EOA took place in the festive setting of a gala dinner at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. Ales Solar, the first treasurer of the EOA, was honoured with the Medal of Merit for his efforts in establishing the EOA. The Ukrainian Olympic Academy received the award for the best Olympic Education project of the year and the Czech Olympic Academy was honoured for the best Olympic Heritage project.

What happened on the second day?

The second day of the conference started with a session on “Olympic Movement between autonomy and intervention”, presented by Marc Theisen, Chair of the EOC Legal Commission on “Validity of Arbitration Agreements contained in the rules of Sports Governing Bodies” and Jean-Michel Brun, Chair of the EOC’s Culture and Education Commission presenting the specificities of sport in Europe.

“Autonomy is not independence, it is collaboration.”
Jean Michel Brun, Chair of EOC Culture and Education Commission

In the subsequent session “Partners of the National Olympic Academies: Collaboration for Sustainable Development”, the focus shifted to NOAs and their opportunities for collaboration. Maria Bogner, Director of the Centre for Olympic Studies (OSC), spoke about the quest to make Olympic knowledge accessible to all and highlighted the vast number of resources provided by the OSC. The following presentations explored how external and internal factors influence the work of NOAs. Paraskevi Salepi from the University of Peloponnese presented the institutional environment of NOAs and EOA’s Soenke Schadwinkel introduced a framework to compare the National Olympic Academies in order to derive inspiration for future strategic development. Ales Solar closed the session with his thoughts on a sustainable and autonomous NOA financial budget strategy.

The afternoon was dedicated to a practice-oriented exchange. In workshops prepared by four EOA members, the delegates were given insights into exemplary projects and thus had the opportunity to discuss and develop their own ideas. Eda Caushi from the Albanian Olympic Academy led a workshop on the “Olympic Values Relay” and how to teach Olympic education in cooperation with national sports federations. Ales Solar discussed in his workshop the benefits and specificities of an Erasmus+ project application. The Romanian Olympic Academy represented by Simona Amanar Tabara and Anita Sterea dedicated their workshop to their impressive network of volunteers and to how far this is applicable to other countries. Prof. Dr. Arnaud Richard from the French National Olympic Academy went into a discussion on Olympic and Paralympic Education with a view to the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Roundtable debate on project BESST

Another highlight of this year’s congress awaited the participants on the third day, which began with a roundtable debate on the topic of an EOA-led Erasmus+ project “Building European Safe Sport Together” (BESST) (see website). The expert panel with Miriam Reijnen (NOC*NSF Centre for Safe Sport), Andreja McQuarrie (McQuarrie Consulting), Alenka Hiti (Rudi Hiti Academy), Ugne Chmeliauskaite (ENGSO Youth) and Agne Vanagiene (Lithuanian National Olympic Committee) panel impressed the audience with its passionate dedication in the fight against transgressive behaviour in sport in order to achieve a cultural change.

The roundtable debate on “Building European Safe Sport Together” (BESST) with Alenka Hiti, Andreja McQuarrie, Agne Vanagiene, Ugne Chmeliauskaite and Miriam Reijnen (from left), and chaired by Katrin Wallmann. © EOA/Renatas Mizeras

In addition, Ales Solar from the Olympic Committee of Slovenia presented the results of the Erasmus+ funded project “Financial and Business Literacy in Sport for Athletes and Coaches” (FB-LS) to the Congress participants and discussed the approach to raise awareness on integrity issues in sport. The EOA serves as a partner to this project.

Conclusions of the EOA General Assembly

Four organisations were confirmed as new members this year. The Andorran Olympic Committee, the Olympic Federation of Ireland, the Luxembourg Olympic and Sporting Committee and the National Olympic and Sports Committee of the Republic of Moldova are now united with other European NOAs under the umbrella of the EOA.

The Executive Board and Head Office presented its yearly activity report. The Board was discharged, the budget for the coming year was presented and a new auditor was elected. The EOA adopted administrative amendments to the Statutes as well as a change in the functioning of the EOA Commissions, which was consolidated in the Statutes and new Rules and Procedures.

Cultural programmes to explore Lithuania

In addition to the substantive programme, the well-organised congress was complemented by a cultural programme. With a guided tour around Vilnius University and the old town of Vilnius and a visit to the Trakai Castle, the participants were introduced to the rich history and tradition of Lithuania.

After successfully hosting the first regional seminar in 2022, the Lithuanian Olympic Academy proved once again its capacity to organise first-class events. President Manfred Laemmer said, “Our thanks go to the Lithuanian Olympic Academy, especially to its President, Prof. Asta Sarkauskiene, and its Director, Enriketa Prunskiene, and her team for making this memorable Congress happen.”

It was announced that the next EOA Congress shall be organised in autumn 2024 in Olympia, Greece.

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