I met with Jacob Kornbeck, Policy Officer in the Unit for Sport of the Directorate General for Education and Culture of the European Commission. From what I gathered from others, Jacob is the ‘go-to’ guy in the EU for anything regarding sports policy and personally holds the institutional knowledge of the EU. He said concussions were not on their radar screen, as his office is generally directed to do research on issues driven by Members of the European Parliament (MEP’s). Historically the Unit for Sport began due to the issue of human rights, which has taken them in many interesting directions. First it was soccer players’ rights to work. The EU is a supposed to be a single market, so the EU had to legislate the ability of players to work anywhere.
Much of their current work involves legislating pro sports versus amateur sport. European pro sports as a whole do not have strong unions, hence cyclists give blood for drug tests while MLB and NFL players can refuse the needle. Another example is the “Whereabouts Program”, where athletes have to check-in to provide their location any time they are contacted by sports authorities, and if they don’t check in 3 times they can receive severe penalties with no recourse for challenges or arbitration. Jacob pointed out, “It’s interesting - you can challenge a positive drug test but not the whereabouts program.” Finally, the athletes have little or no input into how long their personal medical data (or fluids) can be kept in places with unknown security measures.
Currently, the biggest priorities of the office are anti-obesity and anti-doping, but Jacob was certainly interested in the concussion work and recommended I try to track down Sean Kelly, MEP and former president of the Gaelic Athletic Association and Exec Chairman of the Irish Institute of Sport.
Lunch with a Member of the Belgium Parliament
My next stop was the Belgium Parliament, where I was treated to a tour and lunch with Mr. Manu Beuselinck, a member of the House of Representatives and Sebastien van Koekenbeek, a committee advisor. Mr. Beuselinck is a member of the Nieuw‐Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), now the largest party in parliament (of about 9). Belgium is in a shocking situation – currently there is no functioning federal government. Belgium is a country of 10 million inhabitants, but two distinct cultures. In Flanders, the Flemish speaks Dutch. In Wallonia, they speak French. Officially, both languages are the official languages of country, and everything is listed in both. Currently, the N-VA party wants Flanders to peacefully become an independent country, or at least an independent economy.
It is a shocking contradiction to the EU, which is all about unity and multi-nationalism. So in Brussels, right in the middle of the country, you have the ‘capital’ of Europe, where officials from 27 languages coexist, while the locals are trying to pull apart. I could talk about this forever, but I assume cultural studies are not why anyone is reading this. The New Yorker handles it here. Long story short – great discussion with Manu.
Meeting with the European Research Council
I ended the day with a meeting with Ms. Filipa Ferraz de Oliveira, a research program officer at the Scientific Council of the ERC. The ERC has a new grant program for scientists meant to boost ‘frontier research’ and recruit European scientists back to Europe with 5 year grants up to 3 million euros. Filipa provided a wonderful overview of the organization and was interested in our BU CSTE work. When I told her that I may be trying to start some athlete brain banking over here, she warned me that some cultures here won’t be so fast as America to embrace the idea. Specifically, Filipa (who is Portuguese) said that she wouldn’t expect the countries of Southern Europe to be interested – Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece. I say that is a challenge.
Although she did inform me Portuguese bullfighting is fertile ground for head injuries…