Insufficient coverage for athletes in Olympic sports? Focus on social protection

On 23 and 24 October, the third project meeting of the EU project SOPROS took place in Cascais, Portugal, where the current status and further steps of the project on athletes’ social protection in Olympic sports were discussed.

The fact that social protection for athletes in Olympic sports is a topic of immense importance was demonstrated in the previous EU project EMPLOYS. The coordinating research team of the German Sport University Cologne led by Prof. Juergen Mittag, Maximilian Seltmann and Lorenz Fiege emphasised at the meeting, “Through the EMPLOYS project we gained a lot of new insights and identified big gaps in the social protection coverage levels among elite athletes within the EU. This is a precarious situation – We need a policy change in the next years”.

Due to their comparatively short career and the high health risk, athletes are in a special situation that requires adequate social security, such as maternity benefits, health protection or a minimum income. However, recent data indicate that limitations in social protection are the reality for many athletes in Olympic sports due to factors such as low employment rates, atypical employment relationships and low incomes in the sector (Mittag et al., 2022). For this reason, the three-year project SOPROS is now dedicated to this topic in order to raise awareness and open a dialogue among the relevant stakeholders and to equip athletes with knowledge and tools to take a strengthened position in the future.

The SOPROS Project Team at its third meeting in Cascais, Portugal. © SOPROS

The fact that the issue of social security for athletes is complex became clear again at the project meeting in Cascais. Since many country-specific differences at the level of the sports system and in national laws prevail,  a better understanding of this issue among all involved stakeholders at both the national and transnational levels is required. Kirsten-Maria Schapira from the International Labour Organization (ILO) stressed in Cascais, “Social protection is a human right that every person must be entitled to by national law. This should also or especially apply to athletes during their active career.”

Currently, the academic partners of the five participating countries are conducting national workshops with stakeholders from different levels to discuss current practices, experiences, opinions and demands in the field of athletes’ social protection. The workshops held so far in Germany, Poland and Portugal have already provided insightful information and show that there is a particularly high level of interest in the topic. The first assessments show that there is a need for statutory and private athlete-centred measures that can only be solved through multi-stakeholder responsibility.

The next milestone of the SOPROS project will be the creation of two self-assessment tools for athletes and stakeholders. In April 2024, a conference will be held in Cologne to present and discuss the self-assessment tools among public/governmental, private, and sport-specific stakeholders (i.e. sport governing bodies).

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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