NEG, IEG, EU Sport Forum: how Sport brings everyone together!

Preparations are underway for the eighth edition of the European Week of Sport that, like every year, will take place from 23rd to 30th September. During the opening ceremony of the European Week of Sport 2021 held in Bled, Slovenia, Mrs. Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for “Innovation and Youth”, launched the HealthyLifestyles4All biennial initiative with a focus on the promotion of a healthy lifestyle between generations and different social groups. The initiative is based on three pillars: an increased awareness of the topic, fitness and healthy nutrition accessible to everyone, a holistic approach to food, health, wellness, and sport. 

All the spotlights will be on the European Week of Sport 2022, whose opening ceremony will be held in Prague: it will be an important edition because it falls within the European Year of Youth, an initiative which wants to express the ideas of young Europeans to build a greener, more inclusive, and more digital future. For a better future.

Considering the importance of the event, ESN could not get caught unprepared. Therefore, Francisco and Pedro from the IEG (International Erasmus Games) Team, Nina, Communication Manager of ESN International, and me, the Coordinator of the Health & Well-Being Team of ESN Italy, all joined the EU Sport Forum. The event, yearly organised by the European Commission, was held from 15th and 17th June in Lille, France, with the aim of having a direct dialogue with the European and international sports organisations.

In the name of this year's theme “European Sport: fair, inclusive, and suitable for a sustainable future”, all the participants discussed about:

  • inclusion, equality, and solidarity as key values of the European sports model;

  • the importance of the green transition of sports industry, with a focus on the promotion of sustainable sports facilities;

  • the good governance in sport, with particular attention to the empowerment of athletes;

  • the promotion of wellness, especially among young people, through sport.

On the occasion of the European Year of Youth, within the EU Sport Forum were launched the HealthyLifestyle4All Youth Ideas Labs, attended by representatives of youth organisations promoting sport, including us of ESN. We had the opportunity to discuss with our peers of different nationalities, belonging to various associations, and it was amazing to see how some important issues are common to all: the accessibility of sport for everyone, mental health, and the impact of initiatives carried out by us volunteers in society. 

This year, in ESN, we are seeing with our own eyes the huge impact that our activities, and especially sports ones, have on volunteers and international students. After a two-year-long break due to the health emergency, the NEG (National Erasmus Games), the annual sports event par excellence organised by ESN Italy, has returned. From 22nd to 24th April more than 400 international students and ESNers gathered in Milan to compete in volleyball, basketball, five-a-side football, and athletics with one goal: to rank first in individual tournaments to represent ESN Italy during the IEG, this year held in Coimbra. 

At a competitive level, the goal of Portugal prompted all the participants to give their best, but the ESN spirit, characherised by a sense of community and equality, has never been in second place. Federico Melone, new member of ESN Politecnico Milano, is an evidence of this spirit. With his gesture of fair play summarised what the word “sport” should represent for all. Finals for third and fourth place in the basketball tournament: ESN Politecnico Milano vs ESN Pisa. The match was so intense that it was overtime. During the extra time, an ESN Pisa player suffered an injury that prevented her from continuing the match. As expected by the NEG settlement, the presence of a female player on the team is mandatory in order to favour gender equality and inclusion. Being the only girl on the team injured, ESN Pisa would have lost by forfait. That is when we witnessed the true champion potential: the team leader, Federico, as mutually agreed with his team members, immediately decided to assign the third place to ESN Pisa as a sign of respect towards their opponents and the girl who forcedly had to give up on the competition. "It felt like the right thing to do": these are Federico's words, who left a great impact during this year’s NEG with his small act. 

Sportsmanship was also the protagonist of the IEG. From the 13th to the 15th May, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Switzerland, and Czech Republic competed against each other to try and bring home the winner cup in the different categories and, above all, to proclaim the Best Delegation of 2022. But who won the title? I can state with pride, that ESN Italy won the title! Creating a sports delegation in such a short period of time, with athletes coming from different sections was no joke. Although they did not know each other, ESNers and International Students still managed to come together as a team from the very beginning. They played and cheered for one another, rejoiced together and even when the game went south, they still stuck to the other team members. Whether the other teams were stronger or not, it did not matter to them; at the end of each game, our athletes would reach out and congratulate the opponents. They managed to be a team both inside and outside the court, and I couldn't have been prouder of being a part of this delegation. 

It has been three months full of new experiences for me. I found myself as the Coordinator of the Health & Well-Being Team in a time where on one side, practicing sports (especially group ones) was made quite difficult because of Anti-Covid19 rules; on the other, the topic of well-being became central, so much that we brought attention to the physical and psychological aspects. I have always thought that sports have such a great impact, especially on younger people.

“NEGs have been such a great experience on a personal level. Having the chance to participate in an event of such relevance for the Network, after only a few months from my entrance into the association, meant a lot to me. Sport made me connect with volunteers from other ESN Italy Sections', improving my team-building skills with both International Students and the other members of my Section. Introverts might find socialising and expressing their personality quite challenging. Thanks to events like the NEG, everyone can share a part of themselves on the field to reach the same goal. This is how even the shyest ones manage to open up and feel like part of a team”. 

These are Federico's words. Those words kept repeating in my mind as I saw the Italian delegation on the IEG field and when I took part at the EU Sport Forum: a group of young people from different parts of the globe, with different experiences, and personalities, but with the same goal. Sport became an instrument for unity and inclusion on that occasion too. These are the values that ESN carries out through the organisation of events like the NEG and the IEG. These are the main values of the Health & Well-Being Team. These are the essential principles for a brighter European future.


Maria Giovanna Raguso

Translation by Desiré Merlo & Valeria Giorgio