One of the values of the European Union is pluralism, a value that makes it natural for governments to provide ample space for non-governmental organisations to deliver socio-cultural and other services from citizens to other citizens. This probably applies more to sport than almost any other walk of life. In recognition hereof, Article 165 is the only article of the Treaty which contains a reference to volunteers and their activities and structures: "The Union shall contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues, while taking account of the specific nature of sport, its structures based on voluntary activity and its social and educational function."
The significance of voluntary activity in the organisation of sport is a persistent theme in the EU's dealings with the sport sector. Individuals share knowledge, experience and time with others in order to serve one another and the general interest. Voluntary organisations are non-profit, self-governing, and participation is non-compulsory.
Despite a general recognition at EU and national levels of the importance of voluntary work and non-profit sport organisations, volunteering faces certain challenges. Due to societal and legal changes, it has become more difficult in some Member States to recruit volunteers, particularly young ones, and there has been a drop in preparedness to voluntarily engage in an organisation in the longer term. Together with the further commercialisation and professionalisation of sport, this development has an impact on European sport structures, especially at the grassroots level.
Several EU policy areas relate to volunteering in sport. For example, in the framework of its Youth in Action Programme, the EU offers young people possibilities to engage in the European Voluntary Service (EVS). The Europe for Citizens Programme contains specific actions targeted at Europe-wide civil society organisations, including sports organisations, which can receive either structural support on the basis of their work programme or support for transnational projects. Some networks active in the field of voluntary activity were supported through the 2010 Preparatory Action in the field of sport.
In February 2010, the European Commission published a study on "Volunteering in the European Union" , the first such study covering all 27 Member States. The study aimed to reach a better understanding of the volunteering landscape in the Member States, identify trends, similarities and differences, raise awareness and serve as an information source.
A sector study on sport was included into this exercise. This chapter represents around a fifth of the narrative of the final report and includes numerous and detailed recommendations (pp. 259-270) addressed to governmental actors at EU and national level as well as to organisations engaging volunteers. The EU and its Member States are invited to consider promoting legal and policy frameworks to support volunteering; measuring the economic value of volunteering; providing clearer EU rules concerning public procurement and services; encouraging research and exchange of good practices to promote volunteering; and encouraging the recognition and validation of experience gained through sports volunteering. Recommendations to Member States aim at adapting/improving legislation; supporting volunteering among senior and young people; increasing the recognition of volunteering; developing validation of non-formal and informal learning procedures applicable to volunteering; enhancing knowledge about volunteering and improving data collection; clarifying public procurement rules and ensuring sustainable funding; setting up volunteering infrastructure; and supporting corporate volunteering. Finally, recommendations addressed to organisations engaging volunteers include better management of volunteering resources; the use of recognition/accreditation tools; providing adequate training to volunteers; increasing transparency; and improving the coordination of the voluntary sector.
To share this source of information with interested organisations and persons, the Commission has made the 27 national fact sheets ("fiches") on volunteering in sport available on this website (see our Library section Studies, scroll down to "Volunteering").