After working in parallel for many years, the European Outdoor Group (EOG) and the European Network of Outdoor Sports (ENOS) are joining forces to promote greater participation in outdoor sports activities all over Europe, with the blessing of the European Commission.

Everybody knows the EOG, which is reaching out to retailers more than in the past (see the related article in this issue). Formally established in October 2013, ENOS is a group of 22 stakeholders in 11 countries that includes officials of sports associations, national sports-related authorities and universities.

Run by a Frenchman, François Beauchard, this federation has organized three Nature & Outdoor Sports Euro'Meet conventions since 2011. The fourth one will be held on Sept 26-30, 2017 at La Seu d'Urgell in Spain. This is a town not far from Barcelona, where both Beauchard and Arne Arens, European director of The North Face, took the podium to discuss a broad program of collaboration at the annual European Outdoor Summit (EOS) organized by the EOG in Barcelona on Sept. 29 and 30.

The convention, which was attended by more than 250 delegates from all over Europe and beyond, was described as a success (more on that in the News Briefs). Pointing out that the days of big growth are over for the outdoor sector, Mark Held, general secretary of the EOG, called on the audience to form a broad coalition of people and organizations to promote participation in outdoor activities. The outdoor sector “is not an eco-system,” he said.

A few weeks ago both the EOG and ENOS became members of the House of Sport, the lobbying group led by the Federation of the European Sporting Goods Industry (Fesi) in Brussels, of which the EOG is already a member. Both will participate along with national organizations in seven European countries in a major new project, called BOSS, which has received the support of the Erasmus+ program of the European Commission.

BOSS stands for Benefits of Outdoor Sport for Society. It's going to be a three-year research program intended to monetize the non-economic benefits of people's participation in outdoor sports activities on physical and mental wellbeing, social inclusion and behavioral change. It will be led by the Sheffield Hallam University in England, which has already studied the economic benefits of outdoor sports. The Technical University of Munich will develop the test model.

Among other goals, the BOSS project is expected to help better understand the motivations of people who practice outdoor sports. The Erasmus+ fund, which has a budget of €200 million for similar projects over a five-year period, sponsored earlier this year Get Wet, a program conducted under ENOS' banner to enhance access by communities to watersports such as swimming, canoeing, rowing and sailing. It served as a prelude to last month's European Week of Sport, where the governments of 31 European countries helped to organize about 14,000 events, double as many as in the previous year. Outdoor activities got the highest rate of participation, followed by educational institutions, sports clubs and fitness centers, and activities in the workplace.

Invited by the EOG to deliver one of the keynote speeches at last month's EOS, Jens Nymand Christensen, the Danish-born deputy director general for education and culture at the European Commission, stressed that it is making economic sense for it and other stakeholders to invest in sport, which he called “the largest civilized movement” in the world, because of its numerous benefits. His directorate is also responsible for sport, which was included in the Commission's agenda in 2009 through the Lisbon Treaty.

Christensen noted that “billions of euros” are available from a variety of sources in Brussels, including the European Structural Fund, for investment in outdoor and other sports. He proposed helping refugees and their children with sports programs to facilitate their integration. Among other ideas, he praised initiatives to get old and handicapped people to exercise.

The European Commission has created an expert group of 15 people from various countries to discuss opportunities for the development of grassroots sports. It is chaired by Sir Graham Watson, president of another association, Europe Active, which focuses on fitness activities.

The Commission has also asked all the member governments to come up before the end of the year with a set of policy recommendations for the promotion of sports activities that they intend to implement in their own countries.

In the U.K., Sport England has already started to get in engaged with its recently confirmed commitment to spend £250 million (€280.7m-$305.8m) over a five-year period to combat inactivity. It follows strong lobbying by Andrew Denton, the dynamic chief executive of the Outdoor Industries Association, the British OIA. Some of the money will be spent for the digital mapping of hiking trails, which should appeal to the new generation of smartphone users.

The EOG already launched a year ago an international campaign for the promotion of outdoor sports through the social media under the #itsgreatoutthere hashtag. It has been relayed to the general public by many of its members. An observer noted that it is bound to resonate the most in English-speaking countries because of the language used in the hashtag, and others are now suggesting national adaptations.

Speaking in behalf of the EOG, Arens proposed amplifying the movement through national governments and associations in the next two years. He encouraged outdoor brands to sponsor grassroots projects like those initiated by TNF. While people are becoming more sedentary all over the world, outdoor sports are gaining ground more than sports such as swimming or tennis, Arens noted. Lack of time is a big hurdle, but he mentioned a study by Sport England showing that, while 8.9 million people are currently active outdoors in the U.K., 2.8 million want to do more of that and 18.2 million want to re-engage and participate in outdoor activities.