Migrants are underrepresented in European sports clubs, study says

Photo: marcbiskup/Flickr


By Mads A. Wickstrøm
A recent study investigates the extent to which ethnic minorities and migrants have access to organised sports clubs in European countries.

The aim of the study “Equal Access for Migrant Volunteers to Sports Clubs in Europe” is to shift from the dominant perspective where migrants and ethnic minorities are seen as target groups for sport offers to a perspective where they are seen as “active members of a sports club in volunteer positions”. The study was launched within the context of the “European Sport Inclusion Network – Promoting Equal Opportunities of Migrants and Minorities through Volunteering in Sport (ESPIN),” – co-funded by the European Commission under the ERASMUS+ Sport Programme.

Results of the study indicate that migrant volunteers are strongly represented in the sports sector when compared to other social realms. However, within the sports sector, migrants and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in various areas including membership in sports clubs, voluntary commitment in formal sports structures and general involvement in sporting activities.

The research indicates the existence of several barriers restricting migrants’ access to volunteer positions in sports. First, administrative and legal barriers prevent equal access to competitive events e.g. football clubs with a majority of non-EU players are not eligible to participate in official competitions. Second, membership fees in a sports club may be extensive and, additionally, basic language skills are often required for certain volunteer positions such as coaching or administrative work, thus constituting another barrier for migrants. Finally, sports club cultures are often characterised by a tendency to isolate themselves against external influence and to fill vacancies from within their own ranks, the study reveals.

Based on three case studies of European sports clubs (in Italy, Hungary and Germany), the final chapter of the study presents a series of recommendations for the inclusion of migrant volunteers and athletes in sports clubs – including:

  • Building a diverse member base by developing a mission statement based on diversity and respect;
  • Promotion of the club’s intercultural openness in public relations activities;
  • Targeting women and girls, offering gender-specific activities;
  • Increase cooperation with large sports clubs on inclusion and participation;
  • Appointing volunteer officers and mentors for new volunteers;
  • Cooperation with migrant organisations and initiatives from the same social environment to recruit volunteers outside the club;
  • Combine sports with educational opportunities.

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