Discussing Athletes’ Social Protection: Insights from the SOPROS Conference in Cologne

The first SOPROS conference held on April 8th, 2024 in Cologne marked a milestone for the Erasmus+ project, focusing on athletes’ social protection. The event convened stakeholders from politics, sports, and academia to present various approaches and deliberate on the future need for a holistic approach of athletes’ social protection in Europe.

The SOPROS project aims to raise awareness of the inadequacies in social protection of athletes in Olympic sports and to provide them with guidance in this complex field of regulations. Although athletes are entitled to state protection like any other citizen, there is a lack of clear social protection regulations due to their unique employment status, which can have an impact on, for example, minimum income, retirement pensions or maternity protection. With short sporting careers and the inherent risk of injuries, ensuring social protection for athletes is paramount.

In a panel debate regarding the national level, representatives from the German Federal Armed Forces, German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), Athletes Germany, Croatian Olympic Committee, Union Nationale des Sportifs de Haut Niveau, Olympic Committee of Portugal, and Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee shared insights into their organisations role in supporting athletes and discussed potential solutions to protect athletes on their career path. The debate showed that there are major differences in the protection of athletes in the various countries. These range from a clear definition of who is entitled to benefits as an elite athlete to individual case decisions and insufficient sports legislation.

The transnational perspective of athletes’ social protection was also highlighted in a further debate by representatives of the European Olympic Committees, International Labour Organisation, and World Players Association.  There was a broad consensus underscoring the importance of international recognition and collaboration in addressing disparities in athlete protection across different countries.

A key outcome of the project is the development of a digital self-assessment tool aimed at providing athletes with guidance on their social protection entitlements. The tool, tailored for six European countries (Germany, United Kingdom, France, Poland, Portugal, Croatia), will empower athletes to understand their coverage and navigate their options effectively.  Additionally, stakeholders can contribute to enhancing understanding by inputting their social protection measures into another tool.

Following the conference, an internal project meeting was held to incorporate the insights gained into the further development of the self-assessment tools.

The SOPROS project team expressed satisfaction with the progress made. Project Coordinator Maximilian Seltmann said, “The input at the conference has brought us a step closer to our ultimate goal of promoting integrity and values in sport by assessing, evaluating, and implementing athletes’ social responsibility in Olympic sports.”

Looking ahead, the publication of the self-assessment tools in September marks the next significant milestone for the SOPROS project.

The SOPROS project involves the German Sport University Cologne, the University of Rijeka, the Sport Evolution Alliance, Edge Hill University, the Institute for Sport Governance, the European Elite Athletes Association (EU Athletes), the European Olympic Academies (EOA), the European Association of Sport Employers (EASE), and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

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