It is easier to be said than done, but we have taken the first step and committed to inter-ministerial cooperation to support inclusion in sport. Together with the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and the Slovenian Judo Federation, as the first in a series of sports organisations, we have signed an agreement to support vulnerable groups to integrate into mainstream sport environments.
The history of humanity teaches us about different approaches and views of human beings as individuals who are part of society. In the last few decades, we have moved from a medical view to more humane and social models of treating people in the community. A human being is not just an object with a diagnosis, separated from the whole. Today we are aware that every human being carries within him or her the potential to make a positive contribution to society. We, at the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, are aware of our responsibility, which, from the position of power, requires us to create conditions that open the door to equal opportunities for every citizen to participate. The signing of the agreement and the commitment of the two line ministries to work together for an inclusive sports federation is an innovation in the Slovenian context.
Even though many international and national documents state that inter-ministerial cooperation is desirable and necessary, in practice it is mostly avoided. This is because of the large bureaucracy, the division of competencies and consequently responsibilities, as well as the rigid, established system of public administration, out of touch with the needs of the reality on the ground. Organising an event 'on the ground' among people, among athletes from vulnerable groups, is an innovation, as it requires a lot of coordination, learning, mutual understanding and exposure to new content. The Ministry of Education, Science and Sport had to familiarise itself with the status of people with disabilities and social inclusion before signing, while the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs had to familiarise itself with the field of sport and recreation.
Building on our established knowledge, we have together supported an active sports federation that has been including all athletes, regardless of their diverse abilities, in its judo clubs since 1994. All this is done largely on a voluntary basis. By supporting such good practices, we innovatively enable the maintenance of rich practices and co-create the conditions for the development of inclusion in sport. We are also initiating procedures at the highest national level that will be able to extend the opportunities for the inclusion of vulnerable populations in mainstream sporting environments in a systematic and long-term manner. Our example and success may encourage other public authorities to take a similar approach.
The main objective of inter-ministerial cooperation for inclusion in sport is to secure, deepen and consolidate the conditions from vertical down. Ministries are hierarchically the highest public services that can significantly support work on the ground with a clear direction. By signing the agreement and the resulting commitment to work together across the national sport and social sectors to support the inclusion of people of diverse abilities in a mainstream sectoral sports federation, we are placing power and recognition in the hands of practitioners in an innovative way.
The aim is therefore to promote the model of inclusive sport more widely in Slovenia. Above all, we aim at the development of criteria, working methodology and possibilities of obtaining financial resources to promote the process of sport inclusion of vulnerable groups in a meaningful and targeted way in Slovenian sport. In this way, we would help society to achieve the standards and values of an inclusive, intergenerational society. The purpose of signing the agreement was to support vulnerable groups to facilitate their inclusion in mainstream sports organisations.
The innovation benefits vulnerable individuals who, due to different circumstances, need support and adaptations to the sports environment in order to be able to participate on an equal footing. Inclusion in sports is a legal innovation in Slovenia. We are a typical European country with a well-developed para-sport for athletes with physical disabilities and a functioning Special Olympics programme that enables people with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities to participate. However, the biggest challenge in the area of inclusion in sports is posed by other individuals who do not fit into the categories mentioned above. These include people with mental health problems, people who have suffered head injuries as a result of an accident, people with long-term illnesses, children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional disorders, socially disadvantaged individuals, the elderly, former top athletes, geniuses in a particular field, Roma, refugees and others.
Most sports environments are currently not yet able to include such people, or only exceptionally so since additional skills and training are needed alongside an open heart. We stress out it is not only the vulnerable individuals involved who benefit but also others who can significantly improve the quality of their lives through awareness, acceptance, tolerance and respect for diversity.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
In Slovenia, the status rights of athletes with disabilities have gradually been equalised with mainstream sport since 2008. However, we have not yet made progress in the broader field of inclusion in sport. The 2011 analysis of sport has already shown that a thorough rethink will be needed on the development of disability sport, whether it will move towards maintaining a separate category or it will be integrated into all forms of sport, from elite to recreational, with resources allocated accordingly (Štrumbelj, 2011).
To this date, no decision has been taken yet. But the interest and influence of the EU are clearly seen, which is very much in favour of inclusion. Bureaucratic procedures and strict controls on the use of public funds are major obstacles to such cooperation at the ministerial level. The needs on the ground, in sports associations, which are largely voluntary under the Sports Act (2017), are often not in line with the highest requirements of financial controls.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The tripartite agreement was signed in April 2022. The initiative of the agreement was to establish an inter-ministerial committee for the inclusion of vulnerable groups in Slovenian sports. On the signing agreement, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport (MESS) and the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs (MLFSA) agreed to initiate the establishment of an extended inter-ministerial commission.
The Directorate for Sport is doing everything to achieve this goal by the end of the calendar year. The Inter-Ministerial Committee will be able to help us in the formulation of a modern resolution of the National Sports Programme, the integration of the development of inclusion in the sport into international cohesion policy projects and the development of regional and local action of sports organisations.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The initiators of the tripartite agreement were the coaches of inclusive judo from Slovenian Judo Federation. Their leadership organised several working meetings. Both competent ministries with the minister dr. Simona Kustec and the director dr. Mojca Doupona from MESS and the minister of the MLFSA Janez Cigler Kralj and State Secretary mag. Cveto Uršič identified the Inclusive Judo programme as a possible model for further development of inclusion in sport.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The innovation involved inclusive judo coaches as citizens, representing at least 150 participating judo players in need of adaptations. Until the tripartite agreement was signed, close cooperation took place between the staff of the MESS and MLFSA. The rich practice of inclusive judo has established close cooperation with civil society organisations. The Inclusive Clubs also rely on local businesses.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
One concrete outstanding effect of the coordination between the two ministries so far has been the record of the programme "inclusive sport for people with disabilities" in the new Resolution on the national social assistance programme 2022-2030. Currently, approximately 150 judo players of different abilities are involved in inclusive judo.
There are around 20.000 children and young people in the education system in Slovenia who have been issued with written order on the necessary adaptations. There is also an estimate of the number of people with various forms of disability. They figure from 160.000 to 170.000 persons with disabilities. Almost 1.500 children and adults are involved in a pilot programme to link disability and sports associations at national level. Our aim is to provide long-term systemic support for their involvement in local sports clubs by at least 200 % through weekly exercise.
Challenges and Failures
In practice, the various line ministries are a rather closed system in order to comply with all directives, laws and regulations. Openness and inter-ministerial cooperation entail a certain degree of risk that a project or an intention will not be successfully implemented. There may be several conflicts of interest, misunderstandings or lack of in-depth knowledge of each other's area of expertise, legal frameworks and ways of doing business. Notwithstanding the above, we at the Directorate for Sport do not believe that this should stop us from trying to promote the well-being of citizens.
Conditions for Success
The conditions needed for our innovation to succeed are most strongly reflected in the area of policy and rules. Of course, we implement this type of practice through leadership and guidance of good practices, supported by human and financial resources. All of us involved in such holistically oriented activities need to have integrity, high personal values and the motivation to succeed.
By our action and our will to sign the tripartite agreement on community action for inclusion in sport, we have opened the door to other public authorities and set an example for them to possibly do the same for the benefit of citizens. We also encourage the civil sphere to take an active approach to the challenges they face in their activism.
At the Directorate for Sport, we believe that working in the public interest is one of the most beautiful missions and that the amount of work, the responsibility and the additional challenges that may arise from inter-ministerial and civil society integration should not stop us. Just as we support good practices by working together, we can also tackle potential obstacles along the way by working together.
- Čuk. J. (2014). https://www.stat.si/StatWeb/News/Index/4916
- MIZŠ (MESS). https://www.gov.si/assets/ministrstva/MIZS/Dokumenti/Izobrazevanje-otrok-s-posebnimi-potrebami/Statistike-in-analize/Preglednica_ucenci_s_posebnimi_potrebami.pdf
- MIZŠ (MESS). https://www.gov.si/teme/osnovnosolsko-izobrazevanje-za-otroke-s-posebnimi-potrebami/
- MDDSZ (MLFSA). https://www.gov.si/zbirke/projekti-in-programi/akcijski-program-za-invalide/
- MIZŠ (MESS). https://www.gov.si/assets/ministrstva/MIZS/Dokumenti/Direktorat-za-sport/LPS-2022/Javni-razpis-2022/Besedilo_JR_LPS_2022_P.pdf
- Resolucija o Nacionalnem programu športa v Republiki Sloveniji za obdobje 2014–2023 (ReNPŠ14–23) (pisrs.si)
- Resolucija o nacionalnem programu socialnega varstva za obdobje 2022–2030 (ReNPSV22–30) (pisrs.si)
- Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
25 January 2023