The EU has approved a fund to aid recovery as the pandemic takes its toll on young people and sports, writes Željana Zovko.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) The response of governments around the world to the unprecedented and rapid spread of the coronavirus has resulted in a worldwide economic slowdown. The impacts on people, jobs, and businesses are likely to be long-term and will hit the most vulnerable populations the hardest, including young people, women, and people with disabilities.
The pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives, and as a result, this week the European Parliament voted in the plenary session on the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), part of the EU’s Next Generation Recovery Package.
It is intended to be the Union’s main tool in support of economic and social recovery from the consequences of the current pandemic, as it will provide 672.5 billion euros in grants and loans as financial support over the coming years. It will benefit all member states, but especially Croatia since a total of 9.6 billion euros will be available to the country, of which 6 billion euros in grants, which makes up over 11% of Croatia’s GDP.
In order to receive support through the facility, member states will be required to produce recovery and resilience plans proposing a congruent set of reforms and public investment projects structured around six pillars, namely: green transition; digital transformation; smart, sustainable and inclusive growth; social and territorial cohesion; health, and economic, social and institutional resilience; and policies for the next generation, i.e., children and youth.
Impact on the youth
Even before the onset of the global pandemic, the social and economic integration of young people was an ongoing challenge. History has taught us that a crisis like this can have protracted and grave consequences for younger generations, who are already being termed ”lockdown generation”. Thus, I want to highlight the multi-dimensional challenge the pandemic poses for young people through the disruption to education and training, amplified vulnerabilities among young workers, and a longer and more arduous transition into decent work. Furthermore, I want to stress that such impacts exacerbate inequalities and risk reducing the productive potential of an entire generation.
Also, we need to place emphasis on another set of challenges: the psychosocial effects of COVID-19, since young people’s mental health and ability to socialise are getting affected by the pandemic. Unless urgent action is taken, young people are likely to suffer severe and long-lasting impacts from this crisis. We urgently need large-scale and targeted employment policies to protect a whole generation of young people from having their employment prospects permanently scarred by the crisis. Therefore, the governments need to integrate youth participation mechanisms into the design and implementation of measures to tackle the effects of the pandemic. I deem that there is much to gain through substantive youth involvement in relief interventions, as young people are already actively organising measures within their local communities and beyond. The constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic on leisure activities and social interactions have a disproportionate effect on children and young people with disabilities, and are detrimental to sectors responsible for the free time of youth, such as culture, sport and leisure in general.
Impact on sports
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a devastating impact on sport and related. The economic impact on professional sport has been enormous, as revenues have plummeted owing to numerous events at all levels having to be cancelled or held without spectators. I’m deeply concerned about possible lasting damage to the sports sector, not only in economic and employment terms, but also for society as a whole. Thus, I want to stress that sport fulfils important societal functions.
For example, sports promote social inclusion, integration, cohesion and values such as mutual respect and understanding, solidarity, diversity and equality, including gender equality.
Furthermore, sport and physical activity are particularly important tight as they strengthen physical and mental resilience. As the road to recovery is going to be challenging, I want to underline the need for targeted relief measures through EU programmes, including the Erasmus+ and EU4Health.
Sports and associated voluntary activities play another crucial role; namely, it can improve physical and mental health and the employability of young people. Hence, I welcome the fact that, according to the data, lockdowns have led some people to practice certain individual sports more frequently and actively. On the other hand, I’m concerned about the lack of physical activity observed among many young people during the lockdowns and the consequences this could have for public health.
Ultimately, I deem we urgently need broad cross-sectoral cooperation in order to overcome the challenges that have emerged as a result of the pandemic.