Volunteer work and sport

Most sport in the EU member states is run by volunteers. The EU sport ministers agreed, in November 2006, to set up a working group to review the status of amateur non-profit seeking sport organisations in relation to Community law, which currently makes no difference between voluntary and professional sports organisations.

The Aarhus Declaration on Voluntary Work in Sport, agreed upon by the EU-15 sports ministers in November 2003 states that voluntary sports clubs and voluntary work play a significant role in social and cultural life in Europe, and it is therefore important to ensure that their role be maintained. 

The declaration specifies that "voluntary work is considered as voluntary activities, which are not intended for material gain and are carried out for people other than family i.e. for the benefit of other citizens. Voluntary clubs have a formal character, are democratic in structure and based on ideals and values." 

As to the framework for voluntary sport, the declaration states that "the principle of autonomy of sports organisations is a fundamental condition for voluntary sport. It is the members and participants who, through the exercise of their democratic rights, make the decisions that affect the operations of their clubs and associations."

The actions implementing the general and specific objectives of the new Youth in Action programme for 2007-2013 include European Voluntary Service, the aim of which is to develop solidarity and promote active citizenship and mutual understanding among young people through young volunteers taking part in a non-profit-making unpaid activity to the benefit of the general public in a country other than his or her country of residence.

Sport can be described as one of the biggest social movements in Europe. This is because millions of people in Europe volunteer in sports clubs. Volunteering by coaching a team or organising a social event offers young people an excellent opportunity to test and develop their abilities.

Voluntary sport clubs' and associations' role in providing citizens opportunities to practice sport 

In many countries the organisation of sport activities relies on the dedication of thousands of volunteers. Volunteer sport clubs and associations thus provide a large part of the opportunities for EU citizens to practice sport. Therefore, they make an important contribution to promotion of physical activity as part of a healthy life-style.

There is a debate on whether the EU White Paper on sport, currently under preparation (expected to be published in July 2007), should focus primarily on amateur, rather than professional, sport with the emphasis not just on competitions but also on healthy lifestyles. The aim is to boost citizens' participation in sports via activities provided by non-profit clubs and associations. 

In their informal meeting in 27-28 November 2006, the EU sports ministers agreed to set up a working group to review the status of amateur non-profit seeking sport organisations in relation to Community law, which currently makes no difference between voluntary and professional sports organisations. 

Volunteer work in helping organise major sporting events  and exchange of best practice

The European Voluntary Service (EVS) is part of the YOUTH programme, an EU programme that promotes the mobility of young people through international activities with a non-formal education dimension - such as youth exchanges, voluntary services, youth initiatives and training of youth workers. EVS measure supports, for example, young people in helping make different sporting events a success across Europe.

The European Youth and Sport Forum (EYSF) has called for the establishment of a "united system of promotion, support and recognition for volunteering in Europe" to structure and organise volunteering opportunities. They also want volunteering to be recognised and accredited within formal and non-formal education. 

Volunteering helps to counteract the trend towards growing individualism and consumerism and helps to build up social cohesion and social networks, argues the European Youth Forum in its vision for volunteering in a policy paper in November 2004. It draws a distinction between volunteering in 'participatory organisations' (where volunteers carrying out the work also have access to and can be involved in the decision-making processes) and volunteering in 'service-providing' organisations (where volunteers do not have the opportunity to influence the organisation itself).

The European Youth Forum recommends that public authorities develop and implement policies to enhance volunteering opportunities and remove legal or other barriers to participation by young people. Special attention should be paid to barriers arising from visa and immigration policies as well as from social and employment legislation.

The CCPR is an umbrella organisation representing 270 national sports organisations in the UK. It describes itself as the voice for voluntary sector sport and recreation in the UK. Chief Executive of CCPR, Margaret Talbot stresses the value to sport brought by sports organisations, arguing that money may make the world go round but that the sporting world would not go round at all without the knowledge, skills and people of the governing bodies and their 151,000 clubs.

Jan Holze, chairman of (ENGSO) European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation Youth, believes the European Voluntary Service (EVS) should be used more in sports clubs and organisations. He says that too few young people use this opportunity to go abroad to volunteer in another sports club or sports organisation and too few sports organisations know about the possibilities the EU offers, especially for young people.

  • Nov 2006: The EU sport ministers agreed to set up a working group to review the status of amateur non-profit seeking sport organisations in relation to Community law.
  • March 2009: Launch of study on volunteering in the EU.
  • Autumn 2009: An online survey on volunteering in sport (EURACTIV 17/09/09) .
  • Feb. 2010: Study on volunteering in the EU published.
  • 2011: The 'European Year of Volunteering'. 


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LIFE TACKLE is co-funded by the LIFE Environmental Governance and Information Programme of the European Union - Project Number LIFE17 GIE/IT/000611

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