Skip to main content

About this book

This book takes a closer look at the societal functions of sports clubs by using the broad range of empirical data of a comparative study. There is a limited amount of up-to-date knowledge on the functions of sports clubs and their potential to promote public health, social cohesion and democratic participation through volunteering and thus contribute to public welfare in European societies. Most of the existing studies are country-specific and therefore do not allow for making comparisons from a cross-national perspective. In light of this, the project ‘Social Inclusion and Volunteering in Sports Clubs in Europe’ (SIVSCE) collected, analysed and discussed comparable data and knowledge across ten European countries and disseminated this knowledge to politicians, sports professionals and sports volunteers in Europe.
The SIVSCE project contains comparative data of clubs as well as of members in selected sports clubs. In each country chapter, the comparative data from the SIVSCE project is put together in a coherent way. Particularly, the data of the member survey give in-depth information about the fulfillment of the different functions of sports clubs (e.g. extension of democratic participation, social integration). Providing in-depth data related to policy issues, structure and management of clubs and individual member surveys, this book will be useful for students―particularly those in sports management programmes―as well as researchers and practitioners in social science and economics.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Introduction

Sports clubs claim to fulfil several important socio-political functions and therefore to play an important role in public welfare for European contemporary societies. This significance is mainly based on the considerable size and voluntary character of the club-organised sports sector. In almost all European countries, sports clubs are valuable sports providers, playing a crucial role in regular sports activity, particularly for youth and competitive sports. In the main, sports clubs offer a setting for regular and well-organised sports activities characterised by conviviality and togetherness. This book investigates the contribution of sports clubs to public welfare using the broad range of empirical data collected within the framework of a comparative study. The project “Social Inclusion and Volunteering in Sports Clubs in Europe” (SIVSCE) collected comparable data at various analytical levels across ten European countries. The overarching concern of this book is to analyse and compare the extent sports clubs can contribute to health promotion, social cohesion and democratic participation through volunteering and therefore promote public welfare in European societies. In the introduction, we provide a background and give an overview of the structure of the ten country-specific chapters and two comparative chapters contained in this book.
Siegfried Nagel, Karsten Elmose-Østerlund, Bjarne Ibsen, Jeroen Scheerder

Chapter 2. Conceptual Framework and Research Design

The overarching aim of this book is to analyse the contribution of sports clubs to public welfare across different European countries. Sports clubs are firstly conceptualised as voluntary organisations. Then a multi-level conceptual framework is developed to consider the following three analytical levels: (1) historical roots and the embedment of sports clubs in society and sports policy systems (macro level); (2) the sports club with structural characteristics, goals, resources and management (meso level); and (3) the members and volunteers and their sport activities and engagement in the club (micro level). We then briefly introduce relevant research as well as important policy documents about various socio-political functions, i.e. health promotion, social integration, democratic involvement and participation as well as volunteering. Furthermore, the research questions that guide the analysis across the ten country-specific chapters are developed. Finally, the research design of the project “Social Inclusion and Volunteering in Sports Clubs in Europe” (SIVSCE) is presented and limitations are discussed. This project collected comparable data across ten European countries by means of the same instruments and standardised questionnaires.
Siegfried Nagel, Karsten Elmose-Østerlund, Bjarne Ibsen, Jeroen Scheerder

Chapter 3. Belgium/Flanders: The Evolution of Flemish Sports Clubs as the Cornerstone of Society from Past to Present to Future

Flanders (Belgium) has a long history of organising sports in a club-organised context. From the 1970s onwards, Flanders counts as one of the European pioneers of implementing Sport for All initiatives in order to facilitate active participation in sports. Crucial for the potential social-integrating and health-enhancing role of sports and physical activity is the number of volunteers sports clubs can invoke. This chapter provides insight into the structure and culture of Flemish sports clubs by discussing their development, organisation and management, as well as attitudes regarding social inclusion and volunteering. The results show that – compared to other countries – Flemish sports clubs are large in number and small in size, that they face few problems upon recruiting and/or retaining volunteers, and that they are seen as an important setting for social activities. With regard to social integration we can state, based on the findings, that target groups are reached at least to a certain extent, albeit mainly by ethnically homogeneous clubs.
Joris Corthouts, Bart Verschueren, Elien Claes, Jeroen Scheerder

Chapter 4. Denmark: High Participation at the Expense of Democratic and Social Engagement?

Voluntary organised sports in Denmark is characterised by relatively high participation rates among both children and adults, indicating that Danish sports clubs have a significant potential to contribute to public welfare. In this chapter, the contribution of Danish clubs to four societal functions is examined. The results show that Danish clubs contribute to health promotion, social integration, democratic decision-making and involvement as well as voluntary work, but, most often, the clubs do not work strategically to accomplish or promote these contributions. This is illustrated by the findings that relatively few Danish clubs offer health-enhancing programmes, work strategically to increase the participation of socially vulnerable groups or have strategies to recruit and retain volunteers. The contribution of Danish clubs to public welfare lies mainly in connection to the sports and social activities offered by the clubs that are open to the general public and in which many Danes are active. Four potential explanations for these mixed findings are elaborated in the chapter, including the role of the good framework conditions provided for Danish clubs, the few political demands attached to relatively generous public funding schemes, the existence of many small clubs and the potential trade-off between participation and engagement.
Karsten Elmose-Østerlund, Bjarne Ibsen

Chapter 5. England: A Long Tradition, Adapting to Changing Circumstances

This chapter integrates results of the SIVSCE project survey of clubs and club members in England with other recent research. Results are from the SIVSCE surveys, unless otherwise indicated. The English context is naturally very similar to that of the UK’s other home nations – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, whilst the findings from this project have revealed some similar club sport trends in England, Germany, Belgium (Flanders), Netherlands and Denmark. For example, the bigger clubs in each of these countries appear to be increasing in size and recruiting more volunteers, whilst the smaller clubs are losing volunteers. This chapter interprets these findings by highlighting the broader contextual factors of history, state policy and wealth distribution. It also considers the apparent trend away from collective club-based sports participation towards more individual and informal sports participation and the policy implications of this regarding sport’s role in delivering change in our communities. Nevertheless, this chapter clearly illustrates that sports clubs in England, as in other European countries, are almost entirely reliant on volunteers for governance and delivery roles. Clubs in England, such as the case studies later referred to, have retained a strong egalitarian ethos, which encourages volunteering and enhances social inclusion.
Geoff Nichols, Matthew James

Chapter 6. Germany: Sports Clubs as Important Players of Civil Society

In Germany, about 90,000 sports clubs exist which allow a wide range of different population groups taking part in affordable sports offers. As such, German sports clubs can be regarded as the foundation for various sports-related areas, including mass sports and recreational sports, health sports, and competitive as well as elite sports. By providing both sports offers and nonsports offers (e.g. social gatherings) to their members, clubs fulfil important societal functions. The results of the underlying comparative European study, which took into account sports clubs as well as their members and volunteers, underpin these functions. The results of both the club survey and the member survey in Germany show that sports clubs play a vital role for the welfare of society because clubs are active in various societal areas which are on the political agenda and therefore play an important role in German sports policy. These areas include among others health promotion, social integration, social cohesion, education, democratic participation, and voluntary work. In their role as important players for the welfare of society, clubs can receive direct public support in the form of subsidies as well as indirect support such as the free or cheap usage of public sports facilities.
Svenja Feiler, Christoph Breuer

Chapter 7. Hungary: Potentials for Civil Initiatives in Sports

The social functions of sports clubs were influenced by the changes in sports realised as part of the centrally driven policy efforts to develop sports since 2010. Along these and other changes that Hungarian sports went through before, sports clubs remained the traditional and basic units of the Hungarian sports sector even today. Their role in providing sporting opportunities for the public cannot be underestimated. Sports clubs, however, went through a professionalisation process as well, their daily operation became more business-like, and growth of paid personnel was noticeable. In this chapter, the four functions of sports clubs treated in this book such as health promotion, social integration, democracy and voluntary work are discussed.
Even though sports clubs in Hungary undoubtable contribute to public welfare in these areas, some challenges may also be mentioned as inequalities and limitations are still measured. It seems that clubs’ services to society in Hungary and, through that, in Europe are valuable; however, special initiatives and programmes for targeting underrepresented groups could be beneficial. Therefore, sports clubs in Hungary hide an unrealised potential in further integrating not only vulnerable groups but also societal segments presently inactive in sports and physical activities.
Szilvia Perényi

Chapter 8. Netherlands: Sports Clubs at the Heart of Society and Sports Policy

Sports clubs in the Netherlands have an important societal position. They play a role in the everyday life of many Dutch people, and they are increasingly asked to take up roles in public health promotion and societal integration. Given their characteristics, it is not surprising that sports clubs are ascribed these roles in policies. On average, Dutch sports clubs have a relative large organisational capacity, because they have relatively large numbers of members and volunteers and they often possess their own sports facilities. These traits make them interesting potential partners for national and local policy-makers from different policy domains. Sports clubs also ascribe this societal position and role as policy partner to themselves. However, this chapter also shows that Dutch sports clubs are still mainly focused on organising their core sports activities, which is challenging enough for many clubs. Policy initiatives aimed at strengthening sports clubs could help to enrich their societal functions. In addition, this chapter illustrates that clubs have difficulty to get their members active in democratic decision-making and volunteering. New ways of designing the volunteering positions are needed to maintain the clubs’ strengths.
Jan-Willem van der Roest, Resie Hoeijmakers, Remco Hoekman

Chapter 9. Norway: The Ambiguity of Sports Clubs and Nonsports Social Functions

Sports clubs have a central position in Norwegian societies, and research shows that 93% of Norwegian youth have been member of a sports club. The clubs’ main purpose is obviously to provide sports to their members. The sports clubs, public authorities and sports organisations have, however, expectations to the clubs pointing beyond sports: They should enhance public health, they should help social integration, they should be builders of democracy, and they should enable voluntary work. In this chapter, I present facts on the extent to which sports clubs fulfil such functions and discuss why the do and not do so. On the one hand, sports clubs obviously contribute in all these four fields. On the other hand, contributions to these social functions are side effects to their main activity: sports. In many instances, this leaves us with a misfit between declared policy aims and what the clubs actually do to fulfil these social functions. So, even though sports clubs do fulfil important social function besides organising sports, there is clearly a potential for more. At the same time, there is a dilemma where increasing sports clubs nonsports functions might be detrimental to the organisations of sports.
Ørnulf Seippel

Chapter 10. Poland: Small Local Sports Clubs with High Social Engagement

Nowadays sports clubs in Poland perform many social functions; it is influenced by country historical political situation. Currently, as a result of the system transformation, Polish local sports clubs have an autonomy and belong to the non-governmental sector. Their activities are focused on promotion and development of sports, mainly sports for everyone and sports for children and youth. The majority of clubs are young, single sport organisations, and over half of the clubs are situated in small- or middle-sized communities. Polish clubs often report financial problems, even though the proportion of direct funding towards them is the highest in all studied countries. Polish clubs seem to show an integrative and open nature. The majority of clubs report that they try to offer sports to as many population groups as possible and strive to help socially vulnerable groups to become better integrated. One of the most important challenges of many Polish sports clubs is to recruit and retain human resources. Polish volunteers in sport clubs are by far the most active in all researched countries. The largest proportion of volunteers undertake administrative and management tasks. In this chapter we try to show, discuss and compare those results with other European countries.
Monika Piątkowska, Sylwia Gocłowska

Chapter 11. Spain: Conviviality, Social Relationships and Democracy at the Basis of Spanish Sports Clubs’ Culture

This chapter provides an overview of the main functions of sports clubs in Spanish society with regard to social integration, democratic involvement and voluntary work. At the European level, Spanish sports clubs are among the front-runners in terms of presence of people with disabilities, at the average when it comes to people with migrant background and far below the average concerning people over 65 years old and women. Talking about democratic involvement and engagement for the community, most of the clubs try to involve members when making important decisions and delegate decision-making from the board to their committees. On the other hand, their members report the democratic culture and freedom of expression they enjoy in their clubs. With regard to voluntary work, only one third of Spanish sports clubs have more than ten volunteers in fixed or non-fixed positions, although they tend to agree that voluntary work should continue to play a fundamental role in sports clubs. This is consistent with their lower repertory of recruitment and retention of volunteers’ strategies, which, in turn, is connected with the fact that they are among the youngest and smallest sports clubs in Europe.
Ramon Llopis-Goig, María P. García-Alcober

Chapter 12. Switzerland: Autonomous Sports Clubs as Contributors to Public Welfare

About 20% of the Swiss population practise sports in a club, and the nearly 19,000 sports clubs are a core element of the Swiss sports landscape and can contribute to public welfare. Sports clubs are accredited with various socio-political functions, although there are no far-reaching sports policy programmes – except Youth and Sport. The results of this chapter demonstrate that sports clubs can promote public health, social integration and democratic decision-making, particularly through voluntary work by the members.
Sports club members usually practise sports regularly. Thus, sports clubs can contribute to individual as well as to public health, even though sports clubs frequently have no specific focus on health promotion. There is considerable evidence that sports clubs are able to contribute to social integration, since they usually promote goals such as openness and conviviality and most members identify with their club and have social networks and friendships. The principle of bottom-up democratic decision-making ensures that the sports programmes fit the interests of the members. Therefore, sports clubs can promote democratic involvement and active citizenship. Particularly volunteering in sports clubs gives people the opportunity to engage for society and therefore can contribute to social cohesion and trust in Swiss society.
Siegfried Nagel, Pascal Stegmann, Rahel Bürgi, Markus Lamprecht

Chapter 13. Exploring Pan-European Similarities and Differences in Club-Organised Sports: A Cross-National and Cross-Temporal Comparison

When it comes to scientific research in sports, most European countries conduct country-specific investigation programmes for which mostly non-harmonised standards are applied. As a consequence, reliable, pan-European data of organisational and participatory aspects of (club-organised) sports, both cross-nationally and cross-temporally, are lacking. The present chapter tries to overcome this gap by using available data of three waves of the harmonised Eurobarometer survey. More precisely, we aim to investigate (1) active participation in (club-organised) sports; (2) health-related club-organised participation; (3) social integration in clubs; and (4) volunteering in club-organised sports. On all these aspects, regional differences within Europe as well as differences between social groups are examined. Results demonstrate that club-organised sports participation declined in all regions among almost all social strata. In general, underrepresented groups (women, elderly and lower educated), who live in Northern Europe, seem to enjoy better opportunities to participate in club-organised sports. In addition, clubs seem to be a good environment to promote social integration. The results presented in this chapter indicate that harmonised instruments such as the Eurobarometer are indispensable for cross-national and cross-temporal comparisons. In addition, these surveys facilitate the preparation and implementation of evidence-based sports policy programmes at the European level.
Jeroen Scheerder, Kobe Helsen, Karsten Elmose-Østerlund, Siegfried Nagel

Chapter 14. The Contribution of Sports Clubs to Public Welfare in European Societies. A Cross-National Comparative Perspective

This chapter presents the results from a cross-national comparative analysis of European sports clubs’ contribution to public welfare and offers potential explanations for the similarities and differences identified. The analysis reveals how sports clubs make a significant contribution to public welfare with regard to the four functions examined: health promotion, social integration, democracy and voluntary work. However, the contribution of sports clubs to these functions can mainly be understood as side effects to the activities offered by clubs. Sports clubs’ contribution to public welfare is in many respects relatively similar, but the analysis also identifies significant differences between countries. Potential explanations for the similarities and differences identified are examined at different levels of analysis. At the macro level (societal level), explanations pertaining to the historical origin and political opportunity structure for sports clubs are discussed. At the meso level (sports club level), potential explanations regarding the constitutive elements and typical features, the organisational capacity as well as the structural characteristics of sports clubs are discussed. At the micro level (member level), potential explanations pertaining to the social background as well as motivation and engagement of members are discussed. The chapter ends with five awareness points to enhance sports clubs’ contribution to public welfare.
Karsten Elmose-Østerlund, Bjarne Ibsen, Siegfried Nagel, Jeroen Scheerder
Additional information

Premium Partner

    Image Credits