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French sport awaits its Marshall plan

Taking advantage of the organization of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, the sport was designated, in July 2022, “great national cause” by Emanuel Macron. All the major federations dream that the event will lead in its wake to the writing of a new chapter in French sports policy.

To stimulate the practice of sport by the greatest number, the State must undertake a double investment program: construction of new infrastructures in the priority districts of the city as in the countryside, and rehabilitation of the existing park. More than a third of the 330,000 pieces of equipment in France date from before the 1980s. And “70% of them – in particular swimming pools – have not benefited from major work”evaluates a study by the BPCE bank made public in January.

Lack of equipment limits places in clubs

The current state of infrastructure generates harmful situations while most disciplines have found most of their graduates since the end of the health crisis. In many cities, the saturation of gymnasiums hinders the development of clubs and associations, forced to limit the number of practitioners. “In Paris, at the start of the season, registrations were closed in three minutes. And our waiting lists are several hundred people., advance Yohan Penel, the president of the French Federation of badminton. Like rock climbing or volleyball – two other very fashionable sports – badminton is experiencing very strong growth, beating its record number of licensees this year: 195,000.10% more than in 2021.

Former club manager, Yohan Penel is well aware of the problem of slots: “ We are in direct competition with handball, basketball, volleyball and, more recently, futsal. As much as the federations have understood the interest of working together, the clubs on the ground sometimes engage in a race for slots, which can generate great tension. The increase in slots will go through the opening – already at work – of college and high school gymnasiums to clubs and associations outside school hours.

To breathe new life into sports, David Lazarus, socialist mayor of Chambly (Oise) and vice-president of the National Sports Agency (ANS), believes above all that it is necessary “increase the stock of structuring equipment (gymnasiums, swimming pools or ice rinks) by 30%”.

For its part, the National Association of Elected Sports Officials (Andes), which brings together 8,000 municipalities, assesses the financial needs of the sports movement at 3 million euros per year.. “At the end of the Olympics, which will inevitably lead to a rebound in licensees in a large number of disciplines, we will be unable to meet demand if we do not organize ourselves now”, warns Patrick Appéré, deputy mayor of Brest in charge of sports and president of Andes.

200 million euros allocated to the “5,000 sports grounds plan”

Faced with this inventory, three months after the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Emmanuel Macron launched a plan to create 5,000 local sports facilities (city-stadiums, padel courts, multi-sports platforms, skateparks, small dojos, etc.) . But all of the 200 million euros allocated will be consumed by the end of 2023. “We have already revived Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, the Minister of Sports, to reinflate sailing in 2024”, announces Patrick Appéré.

Judo rushed into the breach, simultaneously launching its “1,000 dojos” plan at the foot of suburban buildings, which suffer from a chronic shortage of places to host clubs. “The methodology is very simple: we find the available space, we renovate it by transforming it into a dojo and we create activity”, explains Stéphane Nomis, president of the French judo federation. In Île-de-France, the first two “solidarity dojos” were inaugurated in Nanterre (Hauts-de-Seine) and Clichy-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis).

If he welcomes the deployment of this local equipment, David Lazarus remains unsatisfied. He is waiting ” great impetus from the State, which must play its role of spur to respond to the emergency and the lack of equipment”. Hit by the energy crisis and a decline in their investment capacity, the municipalities, which hold more than 80% of French gymnasiums, cannot, according to him, “no more carrying out the slightest project” without the support of the State and all the local authorities. “We have to be imaginative, pragmatic. Rather than wanting to build your own climbing wall, why not set up partnerships with private structures? », he imagines.

New avenues of financing

The Andes, for its part, is calling for a better distribution of taxes linked to the world of sport. According to the finance bill, in 2023, levies on sports betting, the Française des jeux and the Buffet tax (1) should represent a total of 487.5 million euros, of which 166.1 million will go to the ANS. “Nearly two-thirds of this manna is paid to the State, and 38% goes to the ANS. IWe would have to do the opposite and we could have the beginning of a lasting plan”proposes Patrick Appéré.

Andes is also campaigning to obtain a significant fraction of the new tax on Gafam, insofar as Amazon, in particular, thrives by broadcasting competitions. Another solution: draw on the 2 billion euros of the green fund, announced at the end of August 2022 by Élisabeth Borne to support local authorities in their ecological transition. The need to isolate these “thermal strainers” increased the burden on local communities. On behalf of the Association of Mayors of France, David Lazarus even demanded that 20% of the Green Fund be allocated to the world of sport.

Some regions, for their part, wish to coordinate the investments themselves. “The State has a central role, but we are able to carry out territorial expertise”, claims François Bonneau, the socialist president of Centre-Val de Loire, who has multiplied “territorial solidarity contracts” to support the creation or upgrading of sports facilities. His region now has 64 facilities per 10,000 inhabitants, 15 more than the national average.

Be that as it may, the sports movement shares the conviction, summarized by Yann Penel, that the long-awaited major investment plan will not see the light of day “only when all public decision-makers are fully convinced of the social utility of sport, its importance for prevention, health, integration and the country’s economy”. Everything that justifies, in short, the promotion of sport as “great national cause”.

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Post-Covid challenges

Founded in April 2019, the National Sports Agency replaced the National Center for Sports Development, with the mission of ensuring the financing, organization and development of sports practice. Its budget has increased from 273 million euros in 2019 to nearly 463 million in 2023.

According to a report drawn up in October by the ANS, 85 million euros were paid out to finance 2,000 projects (multi-sport facilities, fitness areas, skate parks, basketball courts), 75% of which in rural areas, up to an average of €40,000 per project.

Since the Covid, most disciplines have found their licensees, and some even hope to break records after the Paris Olympics. But some audiences only come back moderately. In 2021, 37.8% of the 14.4 million members of a club were women, while one in two children does not practice any physical activity in a club.

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