Study on trends in sports participation in the EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This study by the Mulier Institute describes the nature and extent of the practice of sport in the various member states and investigates whether it is possible to identify trends on a national and European level on the basis of this data and the extent to which comparison between the member states is possible.

The Mulier Institute has done a study on trends in sports participation in the European Union. The study, due out late 2005 or early 2006, aims to offer insight into the available empirical data on sports participation in the European Union. For this purpose, existing empirical data on sports participation – club membership figures and survey data – in the 25 EU member states over the last twenty years have been gathered, analysed and compared. This has led to a unique insight into trends on sports participation in the European Union as it is the first time that a study on trends in sports participation has been held on this scale.

The study describes the nature and extent of the practice of sport in the various member states – or, where this is not possible due to the lack of data, a geographical example of several member states – and investigates whether it is possible to identify trends on a national and European level on the basis of this data and the extent to which comparison between the member states is possible. Moreover, these data are used to determine the size of the current ‘information gap’ on sports participation levels and trends in Europe. In addition to this, the theoretical state of affairs with respect to the key drivers of sport participation and non-participation and the lessons that may be learned for policymaking intended to stimulate sport participation are also discussed.

The study has some interesting results. In 2004, 60% of all European Union citizens (271 million people) claimed to take part in sport or exercise every now and then. Moreover, 70 million of these individuals (15% of the EU population) were also members of sports associations. These figures clearly show that participation in sport is very extensive within the member states of the European Union. Yet in a way they perhaps paint a far too rosy a picture as not all members of sports associations are active participants in sports.

Furthermore, the study ascertains clearly identifiable geographical and social patterns with respect to sport participation. The highest proportion of the population taking part in sport and exercise is in the Scandinavian member states, followed by the western and central European countries. There is a far lower level of sport participation in the southern European member states. Due to a lack of comparable data, the extent of sport in a number of new member states cannot (yet) be properly determined.

With regard to this, the study stresses the importance of the development, validation and implementation of standardised and homogenised questionnaires on sports participation in the European Union.

Sport participation in the European Union: Trends and differences (Mulier Institute, April 2005) by Maarten van Bottenburg, Bas Rijnen and Jacco van Sterkenburg.

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