Speech by Commissioner Avramopoulos at the “Smart cities & Sport Summit”, Lausanne 30/10/2018

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31 Oct 2018
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos
  • Αβραμόπουλος Avramopoulos

Dear Mayor Junod,

Dear President Bach,

Dear colleagues and friends from cities, the sports world and the International Olympic Committee I would like to thank you for the invitation to this summit which is taking place at the very heart of Olympism, here in the beautiful city of Lausanne.

I want to start my intervention with a small, personal anecdote.

The opportunity to speak here today takes me back to the time when I was mayor of Athens, making the big decision to bid for the Olympics 2004 and I was happy to bring the good news to Athens from Lausanne.

At that time, being also the president of the Summit of the Mayors of the World, I placed my faith in the Olympic Games.

And one of the most memorable and emotional moments ever was when the Olympic flag was handed over to me in Sydney – believe me this is one of the strongest memories I have in my whole life.

From the very first moment, I was able to recognize the responsibilities stemming from such an organization.

That is why I strived to create the right circumstances to allow the youth of the whole world to feel welcome in a shining metropolis, worthy of its long, rich, cultural heritage.

And the well-established international role of my city, Athens, was further reinforced when I took the initiative to propose the foundation of the World Union of the Olympic Cities, a proposal that was immediately endorsed by President Samaranch at the time and it became the reality we all share today here.

And this World Union of Olympic Cities has now extended its legacy, bringing together stakeholders from all across the world, to work together, for a better and safer world for all of us.

Today's event is a case in point.

Dating back to the beginning of the World Union of Olympic Cities, my aim was very specific: to bring cities from all over the world closer to each other, allowing for better exchange of experiences of organising Olympic Games, and creating sustainable legacies for cities, for nations and for the whole world – interpreting authentically the essence of the Olympic Games.

Ultimately, this is about going global towards building a peaceful and better world.

This is why building smart and resilient cities lie at the base of a more peaceful and prosperous world: because everything starts at the local level, where citizens embrace and believe in this principle.

The Olympic Games are about so much more than just sports.

Especially today, in volatile and precarious times.

The Olympic Games are a gateway to a more coherent, united world beyond and above religion, race and ethnicity.  

The Olympic Games incarnate the good meaning of globalisation.

So, the role of the Olympic cities is not only limited to organising the events, but extends also to developing the city itself and spreading the message of Olympism and the Olympic spirit.

But being open also means being secure.

Our citizens and our cities are vulnerable, precisely because they are in the frontline of any kind of threat to public security.

This is why we must protect our cities and our citizens and make them more resilient.

This means we have to intervene way before. We all remember what happened in Munich in 1972.

We cannot allow terrorists to target our values and our way of life, to undermine our civilization and our democracies, to take us back to closed borders and outdated rivalries.

Our only way forward is to act to prevent such actions from happening in the first place, and thus to safeguard the security of our citizens and our democracies.

We are crossing difficult times in Europe and also globally.

There is a clear trend of terrorists focusing on "soft" targets – public spaces that by definition are open and vulnerable.

All our cities, whether Olympic cities or those aspiring to become so, have to be supported protected and secured.

This is why last March we brought city mayors from all over Europe together to discuss how to build Urban Defences against Terrorism, and to share experiences and lessons learnt from recent attacks.

Next February, we are planning another similar initiative, this time focusing on the prevention of radicalisation.

We have also made available important financial support to cities across Europe to strengthen their defences against terrorism in public spaces, for example by erecting barriers against truck attacks and by using sophisticated new technologies.

And we are working together to eliminate the space in which terrorists operate by cutting off the supply of funding and access to weapons, and restricting access to explosives precursors.

We are also encouraging all regions to continue exchanging best practices in the context of our Radicalisation Awareness Network.

But it's not just about what happens on the ground.

The battleground against terrorism has increasingly shifted online, as Daesh has been losing territory.

Last year, we have also put forward a package with measures addressing emerging cyber threats by reinforcing the EU's cyber resilience, by effectively building an EU cyber deterrence mechanism and strengthening international cooperation.

And all this is put at the service of local governments and municipalities. I however want to be clear. We need a Europe that is safe – but not a Fortress. The same applies to Olympic events.

Since participation is a free choice in a free space.

Nevertheless, we have to be proactive and preventive.

Our stance towards those most vulnerable proves above all our values of openness, tolerance, solidarity and unity.

This is what the Olympic movement all about.

I would like to commend the International Olympic Committee for the creation of the Olympic Refugee Team, thereby demonstrating the unifying power of sports.

It was a very strong signal, during this period that migrants are targeted by populist and xenophobic powers.

From the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon to the suburbs of our large European cities, sports give hope to those who fled their countries in search of a better life.

Sports are an opportunity to take part, to excel, to belong.

Sport can not only foster the social inclusion of refugees and migrants but they can also bring them recognition at the highest level and project a positive image to the whole of society on the potential of migrants.

Think about it: How many successful football players are migrants themselves or have a migrant background?

Many, and many of the most famous ones in Europe.

On the other side of the world, Silicon Valley was created by immigrants at a moment that nobody believed in them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In today’s world, which is becoming increasingly globalised and interconnected, the role of the local level, of cities, becomes all the more important.

This can exactly be observed in the Olympic Games, where all aspects of social, cultural and political life merge in a spirit of peace, friendship, cooperation, and fair play .

This is truly the Olympic spirit, and one which the World Union of Olympic Cities – our host today – promotes.

Because the Olympic Games are much more than a sport event.

They have become a tool of urban renewal and a catalyst of transformation, innovation and improvement of all aspects of cities’ lives.

Through this cooperation, all cities can learn from the experience of others and organize their cities in such a way that the legacy of the Olympic Games can be spread all over the world.

Take Barcelona for example: The changes made in the city for the Olympics have become a role model for other cities, or even Beijing, and its urban regeneration efforts, which also continue for the next Olympics 2022.

These cities have performed miracles and they still enjoy the continuing legacy of the Olympic Games: for the benefit of the cities, of the ountries and most importantly of the citizens.

And it is on this note that I wish to end.

In times of increasing nationalism, populism and rising xenophobia, cities are showing the way forward, undisturbed by such movements that wish to pull us back to a dark past.

Because cities can only evolve and lead towards the future.

Cities have no time to close themselves off, because they are the living hearts and bursting bubble of our societies.

We therefore have an important shared duty, and that is to make sure we help our cities thrive, embracing the Olympic spirit, so they in turn can make our societies, our countries and our world a better and more prosperous place for all.

Dear friends,

My presence here today is first an opportunity to catch up with the World Union of Olympic Cities, an Olympic institution that I hold dear since I was the founding father.

But more importantly, as the European Commissioner responsible not only for migration but also for home affairs, internal security, one important dimension of which is to secure our cities at every level, and especially when it comes to sports events.

I want to share with you some of my thoughts and assure you that Europe during the last three years has made great progress in ensuring more safety and security for our societies.

I know first-hand how important it is for millions of spectators, athletes and the international Olympic committee to share these great moments in an atmosphere of joy, optimism, openness and unity.

All these experiences acquired during the last three years along with our European policy on security have certainly created a safer environment compared to what we lived three years ago.

But there is no room for complacence. We have to remain vigilant and well prepared.

The European Union is very keen to provide its support to countries, cities and the organisers of big athletic events.

Because what we do is not only about Europe.

It is about the global society of citizens.

We live in a globalised world.

All big challenges and threats do not recognise borders.

But for us what counts more than anything else is the prevailing of the Olympic spirit as an eternal messenger of peace and co-existence to be disseminated and shared in a safer world.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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