Statistics Explained

Employment in sport

Data extracted in May 2022

Planned article update: July 2023


In 2021, almost 1.4 million people worked in the field of sport in the EU, reaching the pre-pandemic level; however,the number of women employed in sport in 2021 was still below the level of 2019.
In 2021, 32 % of persons employed in the field of sport in the EU were aged 15-29, almost double that of overall employment.
[[File:Employment in sport 20-09-2022.xlsx]]

Employment in sport, 2021

This article analyses the trends in employment in the field of sport over the last few years, assesses its contribution to total employment and presents some of its characteristics – both at European Union (EU) and at country level.

In recent years, sport has acquired a significant profile in a number of European strategies and programmes. Sound, comparable statistics on the economic and social significance of sport in the EU are therefore needed to support evidence-based policies in sport.

To do this, Eurostat, together with the Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, has made a plan for the regular collection and dissemination of statistics on sport. These statistics reflect the multidisciplinary nature of sport and try to take into account its importance in various areas: employment, trade, social cohesion and personal well-being.

Full article

Employment in sport - developments between 2019 and 2021

Employment in sport represents 1.4 million people in the EU, 0.7 % of total employment

In 2021, 1.4 million people were employed in sport in the EU. Men (55 %) outnumbered women, resulting in a slightly wider gender gap than the one observed in total employment (see Table 1). Employment in sport differs more from total employment in age groups: in 2021, the proportion of young people aged 15-29 employed in sport was 32 %, almost twice the proportion observed in overall employment, while the 30-64 age group accounted for 65 % of employees in sport (15 percentage points (pp) less than the proportion reported for total employment).

Regarding the educational attainment level, 47 % of people employed in sport had a medium educational attainment level (International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) levels 3-4), followed by 40 % with a high level (ISCED 5-8) and 13 % with a low level (at most ISCED level 2). These percentages are close to those observed for overall employment: around three pp less for low and three pp more for high educational attainment levels.

Table 1: Employment in sport, EU, 2021
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_sex), (sprt_emp_age), (sprt_emp_edu), (lfsa_egan) and (lfsa_egised)

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment in sport

The following paragraph focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employment in sport, showing the changes by country between 2019 and 2020 and between 2019 and 2021 to show the following recovery process. In 2020 in the EU, the number of people employed in sport fell by around 60 000 from 2019 (down by 4.3 %). This drop in employment in sport followed the overall changes in the labour market, representing in terms of share of total employment 0.68 % in 2020 and 0.69 % in 2019 (see Table 2). In 2021, the number of people employed in sport almost returned to its 2019 level (with around 5 000 fewer employees), raising the proportion of people employed in sport of total employment to 0.70 % and showing a good recovery of the sector.

Table 2: Employment in sport, 2019 to 2021
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_sex)

From 2019 to 2020, employment in sport fell in 16 out of the 27 EU Member States, with Croatia, Latvia, Estonia and Malta recording the biggest decreases (more than - 20 %). Of the 11 countries with a positive change, four (Romania, Luxembourg, Greece and Cyprus) were able to increase employment in sport by at least 20 %. In most of these countries, the number of people employed in sport is relatively low, meaning that even a small variation could lead to a large percentage increase or decrease (see Figure 1). In 2021, employment in sport reached or even exceeded the 2019 level in nine EU countries, with the biggest increases in Slovenia (+ 65 %), France (+ 54 %), Cyprus (+ 27 %) and Hungary (+ 21 %). Malta, Latvia and Croatia recorded a decline of over - 30 % in 2021 compared to 2019. In 2021, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were still visible in five EU Member States that had registered a positive change in 2020 compared with 2019: Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Romania and Italy. Particularly for these last two countries, in spite of an increase in 2020, in 2021 the decline in the number of people employed in sport was over - 20 % compared with 2019.

Figure 1: Sport employment changes by country in 2020 and in 2021 compared to 2019
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_sex)

Since 2011, gender has been a hallmark of how the number of people employed in sport has developed (see Figure 2):

  • In the last decade, men registered a steady trend, increasing their number employed in sport every year, from 585 000 in 2011 to 746 000 in 2019, with a small drop in 2020 of 6 500, before increasing again in 2021 (+ 7 400).
  • On the other hand, the number of women employed in sport had already dropped in 2013 (- 29 000 compared with 2012). Then, after some years of continuous increase, bringing the number up to 625 000 in 2019, it dropped dramatically in 2020 (- 53 000, - 8.4 %). Women employed in sport partly recovered in 2021 (+ 46 000), but the level was still below 2019.
Figure 2: Evolution of employment in sport by sex in the EU, 2011-21
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_sex)

Characteristics of employment in sport in 2021

Employment in sport as a share of total employment

In 2021, employment in sport represented 0.7 % of total EU employment, ranging from 0.2 % in Romania to 1.4 % in Sweden (see Figure 3). In Sweden, Finland, Spain, France and Denmark employment in sport reached at least 1 % of total employment. At country level, the contribution of employment in sport to total employment decreased in 18 of the 27 EU Member States during the 2019-2021 period.

Figure 3: Employment in sport as a share of total employment, 2019 to 2021
(% of total employment)
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_sex)

Men outnumber women in employment in sport

In 2021, men accounted for 55 % of people employed in sport in the EU (see Figure 4), reflecting the structure of the total employed population. In most EU Member States, fewer women than men were employed in sport, with the biggest gender gaps (with at least two thirds of people employed in sport being men) observed in Croatia (69 % of men), Cyprus and Slovenia (both 68 %) and Portugal (66 %). On the other hand, more women than men were employed in sport in the Netherlands (60 % of women), Sweden (55 %) and Denmark (51 %).

Figure 4: Employment in sport, by sex, 2021
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_sex)

32 % of people employed in sport are aged 15-29

Compared with the age structure of the total employed population (see Figure 5), young people accounted for a relatively large share of people employed in sport: in 2021, around one third of people employed in sport in the EU were aged 15-29. This is almost twice as much as the contribution of this age range to total employment (17 %). In all countries for which data are available, the proportion of young people in employment in sport outnumbered the one recorded in total employment. The difference was particularly significant in Spain and Italy, where the percentage of young people employed in sport was 2.5 times higher than in total employment, as well as in Denmark, Finland, Slovenia and Portugal (in each of these countries, the percentage of young people employed in sport was 2.2 times higher than the average). Three EU countries recorded at least 40 % of young people employed in sport: Denmark (52 %), Finland (46 %) and Sweden (42 %). At the other end of the spectrum, only six countries had less than 30 % of young people employed in sport, with the lowest percentage observed in Czechia (19 %).

Figure 5: Share of people aged 15-29 employed in sport and in total employment, 2021
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_age) and (lfsa_egan)

40 % of people employed in sport have completed tertiary education

In terms of the educational background of people employed in sport in the EU in 2021, 40 % had completed tertiary education (see Figure 6). This figure was slightly higher than the proportion of tertiary education graduates in total employment (37 %). In three EU Member States, at least two thirds of people working in sport were tertiary education graduates – Lithuania (80 %), Greece (71 %) and Latvia (68 %): in another four EU Member States, this share was over 50 %. Of the 25 EU Member States with reliable data, 10 registered a proportion of tertiary education graduates employed in sport below the EU average of 40 %, with the lowest percentages observed in Finland (23 %) and Denmark (21 %). In 2021, compared with total employment, Romania had the highest proportion of tertiary education graduates employed in sport (ratio of 2.3), followed by Greece and Bulgaria (both 1.8). On the other hand, in 10 EU Member States, the proportion of tertiary education graduates in employment in sport was lower than in total employment.

Figure 6: Share of tertiary education graduates, in employment in sport and in total employment, 2021
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_edu) and (lfsa_egised)

Focus on young and tertiary educated people

The proportion of young people employed in sport is declining, while the proportion of tertiary education graduates is constantly increasing

Regarding the evolution throughout the period from 2011 to 2021 for the two sociodemographic characteristics analysed in the previous paragraphs (age group 15-29 and tertiary education), different trends have been recorded (see Figure 7):

  • The share of young people employed in sport decreased from 2011 to 2013 by 1.9 pp, before increasing again to almost 35 % in 2017 and then dropping significantly from 2019 to 2021 (- 2.6 pp).
  • Conversely, the share of tertiary education graduates employed in sport increased every year from 2011 to 2021 (with the exception of 2020 only), going from 28.5 % in 2011 to 39.6 % in 2021, with an increase of almost one pp in the last year alone.
Figure 7: Evolution of share of people aged 15-29 and of tertiary education graduates in employment in sport in the EU, 2011-2021
Source: Eurostat (sprt_emp_age) and (sprt_emp_edu)

Source data for tables and graphs

Data sources

As there is no Eurostat data collection devoted specifically to sport, sport statistics are derived from existing EU data collections. Employment statistics related to sport are extracted from the results of the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) — the main source of information about EU labour market and employment trends.

The purpose of these statistics is to shed light on the contribution that sport makes to overall employment and on the main characteristics of employment in sport (using variables such as age, sex or educational attainment).


Employment in sport is measured using the central statistical definition from the Vilnius definition of sport, covering the core sporting activities under NACE Rev.2 class 93.1 — Sports activities.

The variable occupation has also been introduced as part of the scope of employment in sport: all jobs in a NACE economic sector and jobs in a sports occupation (ISCO, 'International Standard Classification of Occupations’) outside the NACE sport sector are considered simultaneously. In practice, this means that all workers recorded in NACE rev.2 code 93.1 (Sports activities) and/or ISCO-08 code 342 (Sports and fitness workers) fall within the scope of this definition of sport. In other words, employment in sport includes the working population employed:

  • in a sports-related occupation in the sports sector (ISCO 342*NACE 93.1), e.g. professional athletes, professional coaches in fitness centres, etc.;
  • in a non-sports occupation in the sports sector (NACE 93.1), e.g. receptionists in fitness centres;
  • in a sports-related job (ISCO 342) outside the sports sector, e.g. school sport instructors.

NACE Rev.2 code 93.1 includes:

  • the activities of sports teams or clubs whose primary activity is participating in live sports events before a paying audience;
  • independent athletes who take part in live sporting or racing events before a paying audience;
  • owners of vehicles or animals that take part in races (such as cars, dogs or horses) who are primarily engaged in entering them in racing or other spectator sports events;
  • sports trainers providing specialised services to support participants in sporting events or competitions;
  • operators of arenas and stadiums;
  • other activities of organising, promoting or managing sports events, n.e.c.

ISCO-08 code 342 includes sports and fitness workers (athletes, players, coaches, instructors and officials, fitness and recreation instructors and programme leaders).

It is important to bear in mind that the employment figures presented here are person counts, not full-time equivalents. In other words, they include all paid workers in sport-related jobs, regardless of their work pattern (full-time or part-time). The EU-LFS collects detailed information on the economic activity and occupation only of the respondent’s main job and therefore omits information pertaining to secondary jobs. As such, these secondary jobs are excluded from the aggregate covering employment in sport. In view of these aspects and the approach adopted, the data are likely to underestimate the true extent of employment in this field.

Time series

Regulation (EU) 2019/1700 came into force on 1 January 2021 and induced a break in the EU-LFS time series for several EU Member States. In order to monitor the evolution of employment and unemployment despite the break in the time series, Member States assessed the impact of the break in their country and computed impact factors or break corrected data for a set of indicators. Break corrected data are published for the LFS main indicators.

More information on the LFS can be found via the online publication EU-LFS, which includes eight articles on the technical and methodological aspects of the survey. The EU-LFS methodology in force from the 2021 data collection onwards is described in methodology from 2021 onwards. Detailed information on coding lists, explanatory notes and classifications used over time can be found under documentation.


Sport is part of the wider EU policy agenda. Since 2011, the Commission and EU countries have worked together on the basis of multiannual work programmes agreed by the Council (EU Work Plan for Sport 2011-2014; EU Work Plan for Sport for 2014-2017; EU Work Plan for Sport for 2017-2020; EU Work plan for Sport for 2021-2024) which set priorities and define the principles underpinning cooperation.

A number of expert groups have been set up to achieve concrete results. Among them, the Expert Group Sport and economics (XG ECO) and the Expert Group on Health-Enhancing Physical Activity (XG HEPA) play a key role in implementing evidence-based policies in the sports sector. XG ECO, for example, has developed an economic definition of sport ('Vilnius definition'), and made progress towards developing Sport Satellite Accounts in some EU countries. XG HEPA is working on implementing the Council recommendations on physical activity adopted in 2013. These include a monitoring framework with indicators both for the level of physical activity and for policies to promote physical activity in EU countries.

Eurostat comparable data on employment in sport, international trade, participation in sporting activities etc. makes a valuable contribution to the monitoring and development of the EU’s policies in this area.

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Other articles
Dedicated section

Employment in sport by sex (sprt_emp_sex)
Employment in sport by age (sprt_emp_age)
Employment in sport by educational attainment level (sprt_emp_edu)
Employment and unemployment (Labour force survey) (employ)
LFS series - detailed annual survey results (lfsa)
Employment - LFS series (lfsa_emp)