International trade in sporting goods
Data extracted in December 2021.
Planned article update: January 2023.
Extra-EU trade in sporting goods, EU, 2015–2020
This article presents some characteristics of the European Union’s (EU) international trade in sporting goods. It considers the EU's share in world import and export markets, intra-EU and extra-EU trade, the EU’s most widely traded sporting goods categories and the EU’s main trading partners.
The figures presented for the entire European Union (EU) exclude intra-EU trade. In other words, the EU as a whole is deemed to be one entity for which internal exchanges (between the Member States) are not counted. In turn, the EU Member States data refers to trade with any other country, whether an EU Member State or not.
The value of extra-EU trade in sporting goods in 2020
In 2020, the EU’s trade in sporting goods (the sum of extra-EU exports and imports) with the rest of the world was valued at €25.2 billion (€11.8 billion of exports and €13.5 billion of imports, see Table 1). Both imports and exports have increased compared with 2015: in relative terms, imports recorded a higher growth than exports (+37.8 % against +28.2 %), corresponding to an increase of €3.7 billion for imports against €2.6 billion for exports. Looking at the overall numbers, the EU’s trade deficit in sporting goods significantly increased by €1.1 billion, from €0.6 billion (= €581 million) in 2015 to €1.7 billion in 2020.
The largest relative increase in sporting goods exports occurred in the ’sports footwear’ category, with a 74 % growth from 2015 to 2020, followed by the ‘gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment’ category with a 30 % growth. In absolute terms, the ’boats and water sport equipment’ category had the highest increase, with 1.5 billion in the five years period considered. The largest export decrease was recorded in the ‘skis and related equipment’ category, which had lost around 5 % of its value, followed by the ‘racket sports equipment’ and the ‘balls’ categories with a 4 % decrease from 2015 to 2020.
Regarding imports of sporting goods, the ’boats and water sport equipment’ category had both the highest relative and absolute increase, growing in five years by almost 2.7 billion (155 % of 2015 value). As with exports, the other significant increases were recorded for the ‘gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment’ category, with almost 0.7 billion and a 33 % growth from 2015 to 2020, and for the ’sports footwear’ category, with almost 0.4 billion and a 14 % growth in the same period. ‘Balls’ recorded the highest decrease in absolute terms for imports (-52.5 million from 2015 to 2020), while ’skates’ had the most significant loss in relative terms in imports (-19 %) during the five years period.
At national level, in 2020, a trade surplus (concerning intra- and extra-EU trade) was recorded in 13 Member States and a trade deficit in 14 Member States (see Table 2). The largest trade surplus in absolute terms, with €2.3 billion, belonged to Italy. The value of Italian sporting goods exports was twice as high as imports and it mainly accounted on exports of boats and water sport equipment (half of total sporting exports, see also Table 3). Bulgaria recorded the highest cover ratio (= exports/imports), with exports 2.4 times as high as imports. In addition to Bulgaria and Italy, other Member States with cover ratios greater than 1.5 were Lithuania and Belgium (1.6). Bulgaria and Lithuania based their exports mainly on bicycles (45.7 % and 38.8 % of the total values of exported sporting goods, respectively), while Belgium mainly exported sports footwear (74 %). On the other hand, France, Germany and Spain recorded the largest deficits of trade in sporting goods (around 1 billion in each country).
In 2020, Germany and the Netherlands were the EU’s largest exporters of sporting goods in term of value with exports around €5.3 billion each of them, followed by Italy (€4.4 billion) and Belgium (€3.6 billion). The largest importers were Germany (€6.3 billion), the Netherlands (€4.7 billion) and France (€3.7 billion). The high ranking of medium-size countries like the Netherlands and Belgium is due to the impact of quasi-transit of goods, the so-called ’Rotterdam effect’, affecting Member States with big ports at the external border of the European Union (for more details, please see the Methodology/Metadata section).
International trade in sporting goods between 2015 and 2020
Looking at the EU international trade in sporting goods between 2015 and 2020 (see Figure 1), there has been a steady increase in absolute terms, with a notable acceleration in 2019 and a very slight increase in 2020 both for imports and for exports (+ €0.1 billion compared with 2019). Referring to relative terms, the imports of sporting goods as a share of total imports increased from 2015 to 2016, followed by a slight decrease both in 2017 and 2018, and a new acceleration from 2019, peaking in 2020. The growth in the share in exports was less pronounced until 2019, peaking as well in 2020.
Between 2015 and 2020, the annual average growth rate (AAGR) of the EU international trade in sporting goods (excluding intra-EU trade) was 5.1 % for exports and 6.6 % for imports. The picture at EU Member State level (including also intra-EU trade) is more nuanced.
The annual average growth rate of the value for exports of sporting goods (including also intra-EU trade) was positive in 20 Member States, among which four registered average annual growth rates of at least 10 %: Luxembourg (with an outstanding +30.3 %), Poland (+16.0 %), Slovenia (+13.7 %) and the Netherlands (+10.0 %) (see Figure 2). On the other hand, significant drops (more than –10 %) were recorded in Malta (-30.0 %), Cyprus (-25.6 %) and Hungary (-10.8 %). For Luxembourg, Malta and Cyprus, it should be noted that their relatively small volumes of sporting trade can lead to significant fluctuations for rates of change from one year to another. In the case of Malta and Cyprus, this pattern is also combined with a high dependence on the category related to boats and water sports equipment (95.1 % of total sporting exports for Cyprus and 56.4 % for Malta, see Table 3).
Regarding imports over the same period, all the EU Member States, with the only exception of Malta (-23.2 %), saw an increase. Cyprus was the only EU Member State where imports increased on average by over 45 % yearly: in the Netherlands and Romania, the average annual growth rate of imports passed the 15 % threshold, while in Poland, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Luxembourg it exceeded 10 % (see Figure 3).
Extra-EU and intra-EU trade in sporting goods
The international trade of EU Member States can be analysed from two perspectives: intra-EU trade (between EU Member States) and extra-EU trade (with non-EU countries). The ratio between the two is an indication of the heterogeneity of a country’s trade patterns and, to some extent, may reflect historical ties and geographical location.
Looking at exports in 2020, almost three fifths of the EU’s total trade in sporting goods was intra-EU (59.3 %). At country level, intra-EU trade accounted for the majority of exports in 22 of the EU Member States: the figures ranged from 50.6 % in Finland to 94.3 % in Romania (see Figure 4). By contrast, five countries recorded more exports outside the EU than to the intra-EU market, with the largest shares recorded in Malta (79.2 %) and Ireland (69.4 %), followed by Cyprus (63.4 %), the Netherlands (58.6 %) and Italy (53.7 %).
For the EU as a whole, intra-EU imports accounted for 54.4 % of international trade in sporting goods. Looking at individual countries, in 22 of 27 EU Member States the value of intra-EU imports of sporting goods was greater than the value of extra-EU imports. Intra-EU imports shares for these countries varied from 50.8 % in Germany to 90.1 % in Slovakia. Five EU Member States imported more sporting goods from outside the EU than from inside (see Figure 5): Belgium, the Netherlands, Malta, Ireland and, with a share close to 90 %, Cyprus.
Main product groups
The list of sporting goods that are traded internationally contains the equipment necessary for doing sports (e.g. skis or balls), clothing (e.g. swimwear or footwear) and some articles that can be used for sport and leisure activities (e.g. boats and water sports equipment, bicycles or fishing equipment).
The main three groups of sporting goods, among those analysed here, are ’boats and water sport equipment’, ’sports footwear’ and ’gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment’. In 2020, they generated 83.1 % of the value of extra-EU exports, with boats and water sport equipment (including vessels for pleasure and sport, sailboats, sailboards or water sport boats or boards) accounting for 58.8 % of the total value (see Figure 6). Sports footwear (13.3 %) and gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment (11.0 %) were the only other two categories of analysed sporting goods with a 2-digit share in extra-EU exports in 2020. It is worth noting that sports footwear and gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment were the only groups of products where the shares of extra-EU exports increased from 2015 to 2020.
For extra-EU imports, the picture in 2020 was similar, with boats and water sport equipment as the main contributor (32.6 %), ahead of sports footwear (22.7 %) and gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment (20.6 %). None of the other categories exceeded 10 % of the sporting goods extra-EU imports value. Compared with 2015, only boats and water sport equipment have increased their share among analysed group of products, with a significant growth of 15 percentage points in 2020 (see Figure 7).
At national level, in 2020, boats and water sport equipment reached more than half of the value of exports of sporting goods in Cyprus, Finland, Malta and the Netherlands, and also accounted for the largest share of sporting products exported in Italy, Greece, Croatia, France, Poland, Slovenia and Germany.
Sports footwear was the main group of sporting products exported by Luxembourg and Belgium, while gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment was the main export contributor for further eight countries, namely Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, Ireland, Latvia, Denmark, Sweden and Spain. Skis and related equipment was the main category in sporting goods exports for Austria and Romania; bicycles for Portugal, Bulgaria and Lithuania; and fishing equipment for Estonia (see Table 3).
Among the individual EU Member States, in 2020, sports footwear was the main import category in 16 EU Member States, peaking in Luxembourg (57.3 %) and Belgium (52.1 %) with more than half of total sporting goods imports. The largest shares of imports of boats and water sport equipment were recorded in Malta (95.7 %) and Cyprus (94.3 %), where they accounted almost for the total of sporting imports; this share was also the primary category for Croatia, the Netherlands and Greece (see Table 4).
Of the remaining categories, gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment was the primary category in import of Hungary, Finland, Denmark, Czechia and Lithuania, while skis and related equipment (included in table 4 under the other sporting goods column) was the main import contributor for Austria.
Main trading partners
When considering the aggregate of the trade of all Member States, the single European market remains the major export destination and source of imports for sporting goods (see Figure 4 and Figure 5).
In 2020, the most common destination for sporting goods exported from the EU (export extra-EU) were the Cayman Islands (19.1 %), the United Kingdom (15.4 %) and the United States (12.8 %) - almost half of sporting goods exports went to these three countries (see Figure 8). All exports of sporting goods to the Cayman Islands were basically reduced to the ’boats and water sport equipment’ category. A significant percentage of this type of goods (mainly luxury yachts) was also exported to the United States, accounting for almost half of exports of sporting goods to this destination, while the exports to the UK involved mainly sports footwear. The Cayman Islands’ share for exports of EU sporting goods in 2020 was two and a half times its share in 2015, increasing from 7.6 % to 19.1 %, while the United Kingdom share increased by 0.6 percentage points and the United States fell by 1.3 percentage points.
Figure 9 shows the ten main EU partners for imports of sporting goods. In 2020, almost one third of sporting goods were imported into the European Union from China (30.9 %), 11.0 % from the Cayman Islands and 10.3 % from Vietnam - these three countries accounted for more than half of the total EU imports for sporting goods. The share for China was lower in 2020 than in 2015 (30.9 % compared with 37.6 %), while the share of the Cayman Islands grew by 9.1 percentage points (from 1.9 % in 2015 to 11.0 % in 2020) and Vietnam also registered a slight growth (from 9.7 % to 10.3 %).
In 2020, ’articles and equipment for general physical exercise’ was a main category of sporting goods imported from China and ’boats and water sport equipment’ covered basically all the imports of sporting goods from the Cayman Islands. Almost 85 % of all sporting goods imported from Vietnam belonged to the sports footwear category.
Source data for tables and graphs
The identification of the list of sporting goods is based on the Vilnius Definition of sport , the Study on the Contribution of Sport to Economic Growth and Employment in the EU and the UNESCO Framework for Culture statistics (which considers sport as a domain related to culture).
International trade statistics are stored in COMEXT, Eurostat's database of international trade in goods. COMEXT contains statistics on goods traded between Member States (intra-EU trade) and goods traded by Member States with non-EU countries (extra-EU trade). The trade values for other political or geographical entities, such as the European Free Trade Association and candidate countries are also collected. The COMEXT database is built around six main dimensions:
• reporter (country declaring commercial transactions);
• partner (trade partners of the declaring country — all countries of the world);
• flow (exports and imports);
• product (items by HS, CN or SITC, BEC and CPA depending on the dataset);
• time (annual and monthly data);
• type of indicator (the value or quantity of traded products).
Based on the number of dimensions available in COMEXT database, the following indicators are compiled for imports and exports of sporting goods:
• value of trade in thousands of euros (THS_EUR);
• percentage of country’s total trade (PC_TOT);
• percentage of total EU trade (PC_EU27_2020);
• percentage of total EU-28 trade, European Union from 2013 to 2020 (PC_EU28) — data until 2019;
• percentage of total sport trade — at country and EU level (PC).
The data are compiled for the following trade partners:
• intra-EU28 (European Union from 2013 to 2020) — data until 2019;
• extra-EU28 (European Union from 2013 to 2020) — data until 2019;
• world (intra-EU and extra-EU);
• main extra-EU trading partners.
Internationally traded sports-related items are selected using the Harmonized System (HS) classification. They are then aggregated into meaningful groups according to sporting disciplines or specific sports equipment and accessories.
The groups of products (covered by HS six-digit codes) are the following: skis and related equipment; skates; boats and water sport equipment; golf equipment; racket sports (tennis and badminton) equipment; balls; gymnastic, athletic and swimming equipment; fishing equipment; bicycles; parachutes; sportswear; footwear; and sporting shotguns. For a detailed list of aggregates of sport products, see the metadata on trade in sporting goods.
Due to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, this country is considered as an extra-EU partner for the EU for the whole period covered by this article.
The impact of quasi-transit or the so-called ‘Rotterdam effect’
Trade flows of the EU Member States may be overvalued because of the quasi-transit trade. However, the trade balance of the concerned Member State is not impacted, as the quasi-transit should increase by the same amount as the intra- and extra-EU trade flows (extra-EU imports followed by dispatches to the Member State of actual destination or arrivals from the Member State of actual export followed by extra-EU exports to the country of actual destination). The quasi-transit is known to affect mostly the Member States with big ports at the external border to the European Union and in particular the Netherlands. This is why its impact on figures is known as the ‘Rotterdam effect’. In case of imports, the goods destined to other EU Member States arriving in Dutch ports are recorded, according to Community rules, as extra-EU imports by the Netherlands (the country where goods are released for free circulation) and as dispatches from the Netherlands to the Member States of actual destination, even though there is no link with economy of the Netherlands. The quasi-transit is known to influence more the imports but exports are also affected. In exceptional cases, the customs clearance occurs not in the actual Member State of export but in the Member State of exit, i.e. in the Member State from which the goods are taken out of the EU customs territory.
The multiannual work programmes (EU Work Plan for Sport for 2014–2017; EU Work Plan for Sport 2017–2020; EU Work Plan for Sport 2021–2024) represent a tangible example of the importance that sport has gained in European policy initiatives. These programmes, agreed by the Council, set the priorities and the principles for cooperation between the European Commission and Member States in the field of sport.
Sport and its spillover effects in manufacturing, services and international trade are having a growing impact on the world’s economies and societies. Comparable statistics — such as those on the number of jobs created in sport-related sectors or on the contribution of international trade in sporting goods to total international trade — provide indicators that can assess the relative contribution of sport in the economy.
Direct access to
- Employment in sport
- Manufacturing of sporting goods
- Statistics on sport participation
- Government expenditure on recreational and sporting services
- Culture (all Statistics Explained articles on culture)
- Intra and extra-EU trade in sporting goods by product (sprt_trd_prd)
- Intra and extra-EU trade in sporting goods by product and partner (sprt_trd_prt)
For a detailed list of aggregates of sport products, see the metadata on trade in sporting goods.
- International trade in sporting goods (sprt_trd) (ESMS metadata file — sprt_trd)