Thursday 9th of March 2023

The labour market of the European sport sector represented 0.7% of the working population of the European Union in 2021, gathering 1,4 million people.

It is important to note that this labour market is not homogeneous: depending on each country, employment in sport refers to diverse realities, with a variable economic weight. For instance, in 2021, sport employment accounted for 1.4% of the working population in Sweden but only for 0.2% of the working population in Romania.

These disparities might be linked to the economic consideration given to sport and the level of structuring of the sector in each country. These figures also give an indication of the presence of employing structures, that are mostly small sport clubs or associations.

Despite this variety of situations, some common points can be found among the member states, as national sport employers organisations face common challenges regarding the labour market in the sport sector. The sport labour market appears to be at a turning point, with new demands being placed on both employers and employees, in terms of working conditions and recruitment requirements. This turning point comes with higher labour shortages, as the number of vacancies is above a level considered to represent a “normal” turnover. These shortages can be both qualitative and quantitative: either the number of applications is lower than the number of vacancies, or employers are struggling to find sufficiently qualified staff.

The first main finding relates to the skills employers are looking for. While the sports sector has traditionally been associative, relying on a large number of volunteers who may have sport-specific qualifications, sports employers are increasingly willing to recruit administrative and strategic profiles to manage the sports structure and ensure its strategic development. This situation has been observed in Finland, Sweden, France or Belgium: in these countries, the sport sector has reached a certain stage of development and now needs to take the « next step » in order to continue its structuring and development. This requires management and leadership skills that cannot be provided by volunteers alone. Management positions should not necessarily be created directly in all small sports structures, whose situation may be very different from one to another. One solution would be to concentrate these skills in sports federations or national sports institutions, which would then help to support the development of smaller sports structures.

As sport employers look for new skills, requirements for the level of qualification of employees are changing. Indeed, it appears that sport structures are willing to recruit persons with a specific degree of qualification. This qualification is important in two fields: the first one for the activities of teaching, leading and coaching sport activities and the second one for the development of management activities.

Regarding non-sport-specific qualifications, employers’ organisations are increasingly highlighting a phenomenon of « academisation » of the workers: as the sector becomes more professionalised, it is now necessary for sports structures to create real jobs in management or strategic positions, where they will be able to hire specialised employees on these issues. This is in line with the willingness of some sport structures to develop but it represents a major change for sport structures, where management and leadership positions were previously occupied by volunteers, depending more on their willingness than on their specific skills.

The sport-specific qualifications are also becoming increasingly important, as national regulations sometimes require a degree to be obtained before teaching, leading or coaching sports activities. This depends on each national situation, and can create difficulties for employers when they are looking for some sport-specific qualified workers because they face higher demands of their employees regarding the working conditions in sport structures. Whereas workers used to stay for a long term in the same structure (or even to realise their whole career in the same structure), it is harder and harder to retain the workers in the sport structures, especially young workers. As they are looking for progressing career paths and higher wages, young people are very often tempted to change their occupation after a few years in a sport structure. Indeed, the associative functioning doesn’t meet their demands, as they wish to have higher wages and more-flexible jobs.

These demands are not compatible with the day-to-day work of small sport structures, and this creates recruitment difficulties for sports structures. In Flanders, for example, 22% of all sports coaches leave the labour market each year, and the number of sports coaches increases by 15%, which means that the number of coaches decreases each year. It seems that those who are leaving are the least qualified: it can be assumed that the qualified trainers stay longer because they benefit from better supervision, better pay and better support from their employers. On the contrary, the unqualified trainers lack this financial and strategic support and are discouraged from qualifying, because of the high qualification standards in Flanders. The same issues appear in other countries, as in France, where there’s a huge shortage for lifeguards: this occupation requires a specific qualification but doesn’t guarantee a high wage, and it’s harder every year for employers to attract workers.

All these elements contribute to prove a significant change in the sports sector labour market: the traditional contracts are not as attractive as they used to be, as employees themselves are looking for new working conditions. This tends to modify the relationship between employers and employees, who are for example looking for more-flexible jobs. New forms of employment might appear and are being investigated by the FORMS project led by EOSE (you can find more information here), as there is a sectoral finding that new forms of employment are being created to address new characteristics and realities of the sector.

All these demands from workers also appear for volunteers, who now wish to have more flexible commitments and scarcely come back after the pandemic. This creates numerous issues for the fay-to-day functioning of the clubs as they have greater difficulties to find and keep volunteers, whereas this is the basis of the European sport model.