Sheffield academics: “Government support for volunteering in British sport clubs isn’t as good as other European countries”

  • University of Sheffield academics have discovered levels of sports club participation and volunteering is higher in other European countries compared to England
  • The report is now urging the government to step in and support local sports clubs and encourage more volunteering in sport

Sports team in huddle

Academics from the University of Sheffield have discovered that government support for sports clubs is higher in other European countries than in England. Sports club participation and volunteering in sport is also higher in these countries.

The report, Social Inclusion and Volunteering in Sports Clubs in Europe, by the University of Sheffield’s Management School’s, Geoff Nichols and Matthew James from Cardiff Metropolitan University, is the first research project to compare volunteer-led sports clubs across Europe.

The findings confirm that sports clubs led by volunteers are important for providing opportunities to play sport and to volunteer. However, the link between sports club volunteering and government support varies across Europe.

Despite England’s long tradition of volunteering and love for sport, the link between levels of volunteering and sport is not as strong as in other countries. For example, in Denmark and Switzerland there is more support for programmes to promote sports participation by young people and other low participation groups.

"Our research has found that sports club participation and volunteering is important in England but not as high as other EU countries, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark."

 Geoff Nichols, senior lecturer at the University of sheffield's Management school

In Denmark and Switzerland there is a balance between valuing and respecting the independence of volunteer-led sporting organisations and involving these organisations in government initiatives to promote social objectives. However, in other countries there is more practical support compared to England.

Senior Lecturer at the University of Sheffield’s Management School, Geoff Nichols said: “Our research has found that sports club participation and volunteering is important in England but not as high as other EU countries, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark. Government policy to support sports clubs is also much stronger in these three countries.

“The research looks at other factors that affect participation and volunteering in sports clubs across Europe. Across Europe there is still a gender imbalance in club membership. More broadly, the more equally income is distributed in societies, the higher the level of sports volunteering. England has a relatively unequal distribution of income. The biggest threat to clubs in England is the availability of sports facilities. This may reflect cuts in local government budgets which reduce the ability of clubs to hire facilities at the times and prices they want.”

Geoff added: “Across Europe, sports clubs run by volunteers represent people getting together to share a similar passion. The contribution of volunteers is critical. The network of clubs is a historical legacy which needs to be supported. However, clubs also need to adapt to trends towards individual participation and away from traditional team sports. The recent popularity of Parkrun reflects these trends.”

Following the report being published, the authors are calling on the government to develop more policies, nationally, to give support to sports clubs to enable them to deliver more programmes for young people and to ensure sports clubs have access to suitable facilities. The authors also hope the report will encourage sports club members and parents and guardians to volunteer more time to help run their clubs. And also encourage clubs themselves to adapt to the trends in participation.

Read Social Inclusion and Volunteering in Sports Clubs in Europe.

Additional Information

The University of Sheffield

With almost 27,000 of the brightest students from over 140 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world’s leading universities.

A member of the UK’s prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

Sheffield is the only university to feature in The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-For-Profit Organisations to Work For 2017 and was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education in 2014. In the last decade it has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has six Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

Information about the project Social Inclusion and Volunteering in Sports Clubs in Europe can be found at the project website,

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication only reflects the views of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.


For further information please contact:

Mary Hickey
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 2221034