EU Sport Labour Market – First signs of Covid impact



EU Sport Labour Market – First signs of Covid impact

With the completion of the EU-funded SKILLS project in December, EOSE is now proud to publish sport labour market factsheets for the EU as a whole and for the 28 Member States (pre-Brexit) as well as a detailed European Report. The raw data was provided by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency and the national statistical offices, and then recompiled and carefully analysed by EOSE staff.

The 2021 EU report and short, easy-to-read factsheets provide the paid employment statistics for the period 2011-2020 and give special attention to 2020, the first year of Covid-19. For the first time, the sport sector will be able to see the possible impacts of the pandemic on jobs in the industry and how different demographic groups may have been affected.

As always, we need to warn that the statistics are just statistics and can be interpreted in different ways, and unfortunately, the data collected by the statisticians do not include the huge army of unpaid volunteers.

Below we present some of the key findings and recommendations (including for further research) as a starting point for discussion and debate.  The full 2021 EU report and factsheets with charts and infographics are available here:

>>> European Research Report 2021
>>> European Factsheet 2021
>>> 28 National Factsheets 2021


Changes in the Sport Labour Market as a Whole

Considering the sport labour market as a whole – sport and fitness workers (for example, athletes, players, coaches, instructors and officials) and non-sport and fitness workers (for example, managers, admin and maintenance staff) working in sport and non-sport organisations – there are clear signs of an overall reduction across the EU.

  • Despite 21% growth in the period 2011-2019, the total sport labour market declined from 1.9m in 2019 to just over 1.7m in 2020, a fall of -3.7%. This is the first time we have seen any significant decline in 10 years.
  • Sport employment has been significantly more affected compared to employment across all EU economic sectors (-1.25%)

Not every country is the same. In France, for example, paid employment in the sector actually grew by 3.1% compared to 2019 and in Finland by 5.6%. Other nations, however, fared worse. The German sport labour market lost 10.9% of jobs despite a healthy growth of 21.3% 2011-2019, and Spain suffered an 8% decline, despite having grown by 46%, 2011 – 2019. The reasons for national variations are likely to be complex and need to be investigated further.


Possible Impacts on Specific Groups

Analysis also shows the possible impact of Covid on the employment of specific groups in 2020. For example:

  • Paid employment of female workers declined by 5.9%. This represents 71.83% of all job losses in 2020.
  • Youth employment (under 25 years) went down by 7.9%
  • Females under 25 experienced a double hit – a drop of 17.5%
  • Workers with low levels of educational achievement went down by 18.3%
  • Part-time positions lost 6.2%
  • The only group to show an increase was the self-employed (+6.7%).


Sport and Fitness Workers

The effect on sport and fitness workers (for example, coaches, instructors and officials) does not appear so severe. Analysis here shows:

  • The total number of sport and fitness workers (athletes and players, coaches, instructors and officials) only declined by -1.4%, (compared to -3.7% in the sport labour market as a whole).

Again, there are national variations. For example, Finland and France showed growth (+3.4% and +1.2% respectively). Germany (which lost 10.9% of its sport labour market as a whole) actually increased the number of sport and fitness workers by 2.3%. Bulgaria, however, lost 14% of its sport and fitness workers and the Netherlands 8.9%.

There are also differences when looking at specific groups. For example:

  • The employment of female sport and fitness workers went down by 4.1% (compared to 5.9% in the sport labour market as whole).
  • The number of sport and fitness workers in the under-25 age group declined by 2.3% (compared to 7.9% in the sport labour market as a whole).
  • The number of part-time sport and fitness workers declined by 4.6% (compared to 6.2% in the sport labour market as a whole)
  • Self-employment rose by 2.8% (compared to 6.7% in the sport labour market as a whole).


What Does It Mean and Where Do We Go from Here?

Whereas other factors may have had an influence on the changes which took place between 2019 and 2020, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the pandemic played some role. We do not know exactly what that role was or why there are such significant variations in some of the 28 nations. Closer analysis, for example, may be needed of the employment support measures which different countries took during lockdown and whether these were available to sport employers. Possibly, the drop in numbers was the result of people voluntarily leaving the sector for jobs in other sectors where there was higher demand during lockdowns and therefore higher salaries, rather than redundancies. As yet, we do not know.

There are many other questions, and the statistics alone do not provide the answers.

We do not know why certain groups were impacted differently. We can speculate, for example, that in some countries women were more affected because they took on the burden of childcare when schools and kindergartens closed, but we cannot be sure. It is possible that new recruitment paused during 2020 and this might explain why the number of workers under 25 went down, but we don’t have sound evidence for that.

We also need to explore further why the employment of sport and fitness workers was less affected than non-sport workers in the sector. Were they considered more core to the business, and that management and ancillary jobs were more dispensable? Was this one way for organisations to survive?

There are two further burning questions which need answers. Firstly, were these trends sustained, amplified or reversed in 2021 and what will happen in the following years? Secondly, what are the implications for education and training? We could guess, for example, that digital skills will be more in demand because of online working or that entrepreneurial skills will be more important because of the rise in self-employment. Again, we need to find out exactly how education providers can meet the changing needs of the market to the benefit of our workforce.


EOSE intends to address all these unknowns in the following ways.

Firstly, we will continue our mission of collecting, analysing and publishing sport employment data for the years to come. By the end of 2022, we will have the data for 2021 and will make this available to the sector in the first quarter of 2023. This will provide a clearer picture of the possible longer-term effects of the pandemic and the real scale of the problem.

Secondly, we will seek support for a repeat of the Employers’ Skills Survey which we carried out in 2018 and received responses from nearly 4 000 sport organisations across the EU. A new survey will not only explore new and evolving skills demands in the sector but will also give us the opportunity to investigate the reasons for the employment patterns which emerged in 2020. We also aim to discover more about the sector’s resilience to the pandemic and highlight examples of good practice.

SKILLS Horizontal with baseline


EOSE – European Observatoire of Sport and Employment

A new wave for the sport and active leisure sector

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