The event, organised by Sport et Citoyenneté, a European think-tank for sports policy, addressed issues such as women's access to both sport itself and to decision-making positions in sports governing bodies. It also discussed equal pay and health benefits.
Amanda Bennett of the UK Women and Sport Council argued that the political instruments to address the gender gap in sport already exist (see background) and it is time to act. "We need commitment and resources, not just encouragement," she said, calling on the European Commission to assume leadership and provide resources.
Pedro Velázquez Hernández of the European Commission's Sports Unit said calls for proposals on sport are underway and should be published in 2009, in view of the EU's future competences following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
A number of speakers showcased government and grass-root level initiatives, ranging from the promotion of women's access to sport in poorer urban areas, the creation of "safe spaces" for women to play sports or initiatives to enable Muslim women to be physically active.
But these initiatives were called into question by the president of the Ligue du Droit International des Femmes , Annie Sugier.
Recognising the social value of such initiatives, Sugier underlined that social policy and sports policy should not be mixed. "If we establish sports clubs for women only, or decide to reserve swimming pool visiting hours for women only, then we reinforce the cultural separatism which in the first place is the reason for women not doing sports," she argued.
Trying to get women to be physically active through social policy will not increase the number of women participating sport, nor pave the way for future champions, she explained, adding that the only way to increase the number of young people participating in sports was through a true sports policy implemented in schools in cooperation with sports clubs.
MEP Pál Schmitt (EPP-ED, Hungary) echoed her comments, saying policies should focus on increasing participation. Indeed, 70% of youth in general - both boys and girls - do not play any sports at all, he said.
Emir Kir, a minister in the government of the Brussels Capital Region, agreed that participation in sports and sports club membership should be valued in schools.
Speaking to EurActiv after the event, Annie Sugier underlined that sport has universal rules that are based on the needs of different sports "so that we can run and swim the best we can". In most sports, Islamic robes and headscarves make it impossible for an athlete to perform at her best, in particular at the Olympic Games, she said.
While Olympic rules forbid all expressions of religion and politics during the Games, 14 delegations in last year's Olympics included veiled women. "This is in total contradiction with the Olympic Charter," Sugier lamented, deploring the International Olympic Committee's lack of courage to stand behind its own values of universalism and equality.
Sugier added: "We should in no way encourage segregation, as the more we accept this kind of behaviour, the more it will happen, and the more we endanger women who dare to do sports without the headscarf."