Skip to main content

Club-organised sport in Flanders/Belgium

Scheerder, J., Vandermeerschen, H., Meganck, J., Seghers, J. & Vos, S.


Club-organised sport in Flanders/Belgium. A status quaestionis.

In this chapter both the geo-political situation and the socio-cultural position of Belgium were briefly described. From this perspective it is clear that the organisation of sport in Belgium is strongly influenced by the political system. Sport policies and sport organisations in Belgium are as divided as their embedding state structure. In spite of, or maybe thanks to, the divided nature of sport in Belgium, a viable and dense network of voluntary sport associations exists. Due to the scarcity of adequate national data, we mainly focused on club-organised sport in the northern part of the country, i.e. Flanders.

In order not to look only at the supply side, findings with regard to sport participation were presented and interpreted. Although sport participation has become a very popular leisure-time physical activity among the Flemish population, it has been indicated that only a minority of the sport participants takes part in club-organised sport activities. Apparently, active participation in commercial and rather informal sport settings is on the rise. Research findings also indicate that, despite almost five decades of Sport for All campaigns, a democratisation in terms of equal opportunities for participation in a sport club did not fully occur so far. Differences according to sex, age and socio-economic status can still be noticed.

Based on the results from the Flemish Sport Club Panel, characteristics of sport clubs in Flanders were shown. Almost half of the clubs are small scaled, meaning that they count 60 members at maximum. About the same share of clubs (44.2%) has been founded before the 1980’s. Thus, it can be concluded that club-organised sport in Flanders is characterised by rather small and relatively long-standing clubs. The majority of the clubs (85.4%) promote one sport, and therefore can be described as single sport clubs, as opposed to multi-sport clubs. It is remarkable that 55 percent of the clubs stick to their somewhat ‘standardised’ package of services. This might hamper clubs to offer flexible sport programs or to attract new groups of potential sport participants. Almost three in four clubs state that they have sufficient members at the moment, and only one in five clubs expect an increase in membership in the (near) future.

For their operational functioning, sport clubs highly rely on volunteers. About one third of the clubs, however, faces difficulties in recruiting new volunteers. This is especially the case for large clubs. Sport clubs need volunteers, not only for functions such as club manager, trainer or referee, but also for non-sport related tasks like providing care, maintaining infrastructure or managing the canteen. Professionalisation of their services, however, is a tricky problem for voluntary sport associations. For their incomes, sport clubs largely depend on membership fees and municipal subsidies. As there is a good chance that local authorities will have to save on their budgets, clubs may be urged to look more for private financial resources, for instance by means of (extra) sponsoring.

In general, sport clubs in Flanders still have a prominent position. Thanks to their large number and their significant continuity, clubs play a unique role in Flemish society. One of the potential opportunities for sport clubs is related to the health enhancing function they could fulfil in the future. As an increasing share of the population are convinced of the preventive and social benefits of physical activity, clubs can take advantage of this by offering a health promoting environment. To make this a success, co-operations with public and private organisations will be needed. Therefore, it is argued that sport clubs should be considered as a good investment, not only for individual well-being, but for a healthy society as well.

Full reference
Scheerder, J., Vandermeerschen, H., Meganck, J., Seghers, J., Vos, S. (2015). Club-organised sport in Flanders/Belgium. A status quaestionis. In: Breuer C., Hoekman R., Nagels S., Van der Werff H. (eds), Sport clubs in Europe. New York, Springer Science, 57-84.

Language of article


Last Updated 25.10.2021