The European Federation of the Sporting Goods Industry (Fesi) has set three priorities for action in the new year under the chairmanship of Bruno Alves. He was unanimously elected as its new president last October on the basis of a new strategic program, steered by a new executive committee, that he had presented for the three years of his mandate (more on this in the Vol. 24-35+36 issue of SGI Europe from last Oct. 28). The three priorities currently on its agenda are the fight against counterfeiting, the development of a more competitive industry in Europe through technological innovation and more liberal trade policies, and the promotion of physical activity.

Fesi's action on all these fronts has already started. Following a memorandum of understanding signed with the World Customs Organization (WCO) last April for joint action against counterfeiting, Fesi gathered a group of intellectual property experts from Adidas, Nike, Amer Sports, Puma, Lotto and other sports companies who took part in a program called Tiger 3 in Panama City last November. They met enforcement experts from the WCO and customs officials from 17 Latin American countries to help their national teams track down fake sports products. The meeting was organized by Fesi and the WCO in advance of this year's Fifa World Cup in Brazil to prevent a major surge in trafficking of fake football products in connection with the tournament.

After one week's training in Panama, the customs officials returned to their countries to lead their national teams in a major IP enforcement operation focused on sports products. They stopped containers and seized millions of pieces suspected of infringing the trademarks of the sports brands participating in the program. The enforcement operation also provided detailed and valuable information to the sports brands about the apparent origin and the transit routes that had been used.

As a follow-up, the World Cup Organizing Committee, Fesi and its Brazilian counterpart, Move, will organize a special anti-counterfeiting event in Brazil between Feb. 12 and 21, in the presence of officials from the Brazilian government, the European Commission and the WCO to support local enforcement authorities in their fight against fake products ahead of the World Cup.

Similar operations are tentatively planned as a deterrent ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the Euro 2016 football championships in France. In fact, at a bilateral meeting a few weeks ago, Fesi and Uefa agreed to extend their 13-year-old collaboration beyond the usual technicalities, such as the regulations on the display of brand logos on the players' uniforms, to include the possibility of joining forces in the areas of anti-piracy protection.

Furthermore, the next conference of the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy, due to be held in Alicante next March 26-28, will be dedicated to the sports sector, bringing together leading European experts on IP protection, public policy and enforcement. The observatory, which was created last year to enhance cooperation across the EU in the fight against fake products, has already held similar sessions on pesticides and automotive parts.

It is not the first time that Fesi has done something new and concrete to protect the intellectual property rights of its members. Fesi's IPR committee, which was set up in 2006, is now managed by Neil Harriman from Puma. For example, it started a dialogue with the Turkish government in 2008 that has led to a major drop in the production of fake sports clothing in Turkey.

In an interview at Fesi's office in Brussels a few weeks ago, Alves and Alberto Bichi, secretary general of Fesi, pointed out that the fight against product and brand piracy in general has become a priority in Europe because of its recent escalation, due to the spread of e-commerce and budgetary cuts by the member governments of the borderless EU. In spite of the apparently increased traffic, the number of seized items of all kinds declined between 2011 and 2012, but the quantities remained very important.

With a value estimated at €36.5 million, the sports shoes seized by European customs authorities in 2012 represented 7.5 percent of the value of all the products seized at the borders of the EU. The value of seized garments of all kinds amounted to €104.6 million. Out of all the seized goods, only 25.2 percent were subsequently released because they were found to be authentic or because the holders of the IP rights did not react to the customs' notices. However, many other sports items enter the EU without any problems.

As we have previously reported, Fesi has also set up a new task force for the promotion of physical activity and grassroots sports in Europe. Headed up by Mandy Ayres from Nike, it currently groups delegates from Adidas, Nike and the national sporting goods associations of Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Austria and the U.K. The task force has already established a three-year program to promote sports participation in all the member countries of the EU, with clear objectives and clear responsibilities.

Fesi will meet Anokula Vassiliu, the EU commissioner for education and culture, on Jan. 29 to help select specific projects in which the sporting goods industry might get involved. On the same day, Fesi will co-organize a presentation on the issue to the European Parliament, highlighting the value of physical activity as an antidote against non-infectious diseases.

The European Commission has in fact decided to take more action on sports participation because of health and other reasons, building upon a set of non-binding recommendations issued to the member governments back in 2008. One of the themes of the discussion will be the industry's participation in a “European Week of Sports” which is due to be held sometime in 2015. One of the ideas being proposed by Fesi's task force is to find “ambassadors” among the athletes sponsored by the sporting goods companies who may encourage young and older people to practice sports more frequently.

As reported in the last issue of SGI Europe, Fesi has signed an agreement with Ispo to promote the development of innovative research projects in the sporting goods sector. Concretely, Ispo's new Open Innovation platform will be linked up with Fesi's existing European Platform for Sport Innovation (Epsi) to inform all the interested parties about the EU's Horizon 2020 research and development program and to help them organize their particiaption in future projects.

The European Council has allocated €70 billion in funding across all sectors. Working through Epsi, Fesi is organizing a series of meetings among the representatives of member firms and public and private research centers around specific projects. The first event will take place in Brussels on Jan. 24. The idea is to form multinational consortia for pre-competitive research on new projects that may qualify for financial help from the European Commission in the framework of the Horizon 2020 program. A call for proposals for participation in this program was issued by the EU last Dec. 11.

A delegation from Fesi is scheduled to meet both Vassiliu and Antonio Tajani, the EU Commissioner for Industry, on Jan. 21 to propose a series of strategic orientations on industrial development and trade, and to make sure that the sporting goods industry is included in the industrial policy initiatives of the EU.

Furthermore, Fesi will continue its action on the trade front, improving market access conditions for the sports brands in the context of the new free-trade agreement (FTA) that is under negotiation between the European Union and Vietnam and others that are under discussion with the U.S., Japan, Thailand and Malaysia. Fesi wants to act as a “trade facilitator,” said Alves, indicating that these agreements could generate important benefits for the sports brands by dismantling existing import barriers and guaranteeing more predictable market penetration scenarios.

The FTA that the EU recently signed with Canada, which has yet to be ratified at the governmental level, calls for a gradual reduction in import tariffs on both sides. It should be particularly beneficial for European and Canadian manufacturers of waterproof clothing and footwear and for suppliers to the industry.

There are several other areas in which Fesi has become more active under Alves, an attorney who has been Nike Europe's senior director of government and public affairs since 2006. One of these, for example, is a new initiative by Fesi's ski committee to collect more detailed information about the evolution of the ski market in each country. The committee was previously gathering only the global sales figures for the ski industry, without providing a national breakdown in the way that the European Outdoor Group does in its sector. Most of the major producers of ski products are already members of Fesi's committee, but they are keen to get input from other firms in order to reach more accurate results for their mutual benefit.

Also, Fesi's skis committee has agreed to sponsor a “Bring Children to the Snow” project initiated and promoted by FIS, the international ski federation. The committee's members will provide skis and ski bindings free of charge for children who are being introduced to alpine skiing. The event will take place on Jan. 19 in a few selected countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

As the only business publication covering the whole European market, we shall probably report more frequently on Fesi's work as the organization has decided to be more open in its communication policy in the future.