Impact of COVID-19 on employment in sport debated at EU workshop



Impact of COVID-19 on employment in sport debated at EU workshop

On the 7th of December 2020, EOSE hosted a European Workshop entitled “Skills and workforce development challenges in the sport sector”. The workshop was attended by twelve representatives from eight European networks active in different parts of the sport and physical activity sector.

The workshop was organised as a follow up to the ESSA-Sport project ( and in a very particular context as 2020 has seen a sudden, unexpected and uncontrollable pandemic starting in March of this year. Since March, the whole society all over the world has been directly impacted by Covid-19 and the overall goal of the event was to share latest statistics on the size and characteristics of the sport labour market collated from Eurostat and exchange on the main challenges and impact for sport employment.

Following a general introduction on the first measured impacts of Covid-19 on the EU labour market published by Eurostat, Aurélien Favre, Executive Director of EOSE, presented that it has been possible to collate available statistics for the sport labour market for the year 2019 as well as for the first semester of the year 2020 (Quarter 1 and Quarter 2). The workshop gave the opportunity to present this data and gather reactions and views of colleagues from EU networks in sport.

Aurélien went on to present the methodology for the collection of data and the requisite warning that the data is the best information available from official statistics and may not necessarily match reality. The statistical definition used was presented and is based on a combination of NACE 93.1[1] and ISCO 342[2], official codes related to sport employment within official employment statistics (core).


Data showed that EU-28 sport employment (including UK) had risen steadily from 2011 to 2018 and this continued in 2019 with a 1.5% growth rate compared to 2018 figures. Although there are differences between countries overall this shows that the sport sector was stable and growing coming in to 2020 and throughout the months and years before the arrival of Covid-19.

Other main characteristics of the EU-28 sport employment data for 2019 include:

>      More male than female as paid staff

>      Growing proportion of youth and 50 year+

>      High percentage of people on part-time contracts versus EU average

>      Higher percentage of self-employed people versus EU average

>      More workers with higher education qualifications than the EU average and less with low level of qualification


EOSE has recently received and been able to analyse EU-28 sport employment data for the first two quarters of 2020. This allows a first glimpse in to the impact of Covid-19 on sport employment.

Across the first two quarters of 2020, total sport employment in EU-28 fell by 3.3% according to official statistics. This is the first fall in sport employment since 2011, with decreases in both the NACE 93.1 and ISCO 342 data (people working in a sport organisation and people with a sport specific occupation).

When looking for specific tendencies in the data, the most striking and significant is the breakdown of figures by gender. By the end of Q2 of 2020, there were 9.6% less female sport workers than at the end of 2019, compared to 1.3% less male sport workers. The female sport workforce appears to have been much harder hit by Covid-19 than the male sport workforce in the first half of 2020.

Another significant finding is the drop in employment of young people in sport (age 15-24). From Q1 to Q2 in 2020, there was a 17% fall in the employment of young people in this age group, while employment for the age groups 25-49 and 50+ was much more stable or even grew in the same period.

Part time workers in the sport sector are the third group to be noticeably affected by changes in the sport sector in the first two quarters of 2020. Data suggests that, between Q1 and Q2 of 2020, 8.5% of part time workers lost their job in the sport sector, while a corresponding decrease was not seen in full time employment.


Following these presentations, the group discussed the data and the implications for the sport sector and its labour market. The group was particularly interested in how they can present and use the data for the maximum impact, especially at policy-maker level. It was felt important to make recommendations based on the data.

Further input from participants during the group discussion included:

>      Agreement that the scale of disparity of employment impact on male and female is of huge concern and requires further study and targeted measures

>      In the fitness sector and among operators of sport facilities the situation could be worse than indicated in the data and Q3 and Q4 could be particularly bad for the sector

>      There is a need, and in some cases much increased demand, for skills to retrain and serve new trends in sport participation

>      Sport and physical activity must be part of the Covid-19 recovery plan

Overall, the group agreed it is essential to gather, analyse, present and debate such labour market statistics for the sport sector. In particular it was agreed that they are needed for lobbying; to show the size and value of the sector in terms of jobs, that the sector was thriving pre-Covid-19, and that some categories of workers are impacted more than others and may need more targeted support.

The group agreed to meet again when further data is available for the second half of 2020, and to continue to debate employment data and policy recommendations that flow from such data. They also agreed to disseminate the employment data presented and report back to EOSE on any key reactions and in particular if the data is used in a policy context.

EOSE stated that it will continue to collect data for all future years and present to the organisations represented in the workshop for consultation. EOSE thanked participants for their interest and availability for this important discussion.

[1] ISCO – “The international standard classification of occupations”. ISCO divides jobs into 10 major groups of occupations and sport specific occupations are listed under ISCO3 Technicians and associate professionals and more precisely under the sub-group ISCO 342 Sport and Fitness Workers (3421 – Athletes and Sports Players; 3422 – Sports Coaches, Instructors and Officials; 3423 – Fitness and Recreation Instructors and Programme Leaders)

[2] NACE – “Statistical classification of economic activities in the European Community”. NACE is a basically a four-digit classification providing the framework for collecting and presenting a large range of reliable and comparable statistical data according to economic activity. The codes under NACE 93.1 (Sport activities) define the organisations whose main business is the provision of sport (93.11 Operation of sports facilities; 93.12 Activities of sport clubs; 93.13 Fitness facilities; 93.19 Other sports activities).

EOSE – European Observatoire of Sport and Employment

A new wave for the sport and active leisure sector

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