Impact of Covid-19 seen in latest European sport employment data



Impact of Covid-19 seen in latest European sport employment data

EOSE is convinced of the importance of understanding the main characteristics of the European sport labour market; not only the numbers of people working in the sport and physical activity sector, but also how employment is broken down by gender, age, and types of employment – both at the EU and national level.

One objective of EOSE is to collate and analyse such data through available statistics. A further role of EOSE and its members is to highlight realities, challenges and tendencies in sport employment, including the impact of Covid-19, and arrange consultation and debate with sport stakeholders to identify key issues and potential priority actions.

In 2021 the analysis and presentation of sport employment data took place in the context of the SKILLS project ( All gathered data will be presented by EOSE in the European Research Report for 2020 (latest full year for which statistics are available) and European and National Fact Sheets.

Data is gathered from the European statistics agency Eurostat and is based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS), data is supplemented by contact with National Statistics Offices in some countries.

Despite Brexit, the statistics continue to include the UK since the British labour force makes up about 24% of the European sport sector and removing the UK now would mean that the UK figures would need to be taken out from all previous analyses in order to show long-term trends. Although Eurostat no longer collects UK stats, the UK Office for National Statistics continues to provide the necessary data directly to EOSE.

EOSE always publish gathered statistics with a ‘health warning’ that, as ever, these are only statistics which can be interpreted in a number of ways and that we need to continue to collect qualitative information to be sure about the real characteristics and tendencies.

> Main Findings and the Possible Impact of COVID-19

  • Despite 21% growth 2011-2019, the total sport labour force declined from 1.9m in 2019 to just over 1.7m in 2020, a fall of -3,7%. This is the first time there has been a decline since 2011.
  • Sport employment in 2020 (-3,7%) has been significantly more affected compared to employment across all economic sectors (-1,25%)
  • The groups where the drop in sport employment was largest included:
    • Female sport workers (-5,9%);
    • The under-25s (-7,9%);
    • Females under-25 (-17,5%);
    • Those with low educational attainment (-18,3%);
    • Part-time workers (-6,2%).
    • The only group to show an increase was the self-employed (+6,7%).
    • Overall, when compared to the European labour market as a whole (all economic sectors), the sport labour force continues to have:
      • less representation of females
      • more under-25s (despite the decline in 2020)
      • fewer workers with low educational attainment
      • a much higher percentage of people on part-time contracts
      • a much higher percentage of self-employed people.
      • The total number of sport and fitness workers (coaches, instructors and officials) has only declined by -1,4%, less than half of the drop in the sport labour force as a whole (which also includes for example, managers, catering and retail staff and cleaners in organisations whose main business is sport).

> Forums for discussion

It is important to discuss and debate employment data in the sector to inform policy and priority actions. As part of the SKILLS project EOSE organised a European Workshop entitled “Skills and workforce development challenges in the sport sector” on the 8th of December 2021 attended by several EU sport networks and umbrella bodies. This was the 5th annual edition of this meeting to share and discuss latest sport labour market statistics.

Following presentation from EOSE of the latest sport employment data for 2020, participants in the workshop discussed the data and what it means for the sport sector. The impact of Covid-19 on sport employment and how it has impacted the figures for 2020 was a key part of the discussion. There was concern about how easily it will be to attract back people who have left the sector and may have found work in other parts of the economy. The worrying decline in female and youth sport employment suggest action is required to attract these workers back to the sector and increase their representation in future years. The rise in self-employment in the sector suggests education is required to develop entrepreneurship skills and competences.

A further discussion of the employment data took place at the EOSE members seminar on 14th December 2021.  The majority of members were not surprised by the findings since they reflect the experiences of their own organisations and national sport sectors during 2020.

> Continuing the debate

EOSE will continue to gather and present labour market statistics for the sport sector at European and national level. EU sport networks engaged in the process have agreed to meet to further discuss the data and priority actions in 2022, particularly when the data for 2021 is available. It is important to use the statistics to prove the value of the sector, and to inform both employment policies and practices in sport and new skills development initiatives.

It will be interesting to see the data for 2021 when it is available and identify the extent of the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on employment in the sport and physical activity sector.

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EOSE – European Observatoire of Sport and Employment

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