Sports participation still lagging behind pre-lockdown levels

Individual sports like running are still popular, but club membership is down. Photo:

Participation in sport has still not recovered to its pre-pandemic level, with around 700,000 fewer people exercising at least once a week, Dutch Olympic association NOC*NSF says in its latest annual report.

Sports club membership also declined from 27% to 23% of the population in the last two years, though this was up from 19% in 2021.

The number of people who regularly take part in sport, a broad definition that covers anything from a brisk weekly walk to training with a team, increased by 500,000 since last year.

Children under 12 and the over-65s were back to the pre-pandemic level, while graduates were also more likely to have taken up sport again, with participation at 68% compared to 70% two years ago.

But the gap in sports club membership has grown, with teenagers and people with a vocational background less likely to have returned to regular exercise.

Not all sports have seen a decline in participation. Running, rowing and climbing all became more popular during lockdown, with membership of the Survivalrun association rising by 128% in the last five years.

Marc van den Tweel, managing director of NOS*NSF, said it was “very worrying” that participation in sport was declining among young people.

“The impact of the pandemic was especially severe in this group. They are not finding their way back to sport, either individually or as members of clubs,” he said.

NOS*NSF have also called for clubs to become more professional and take on more paid staff, with the support of local authorities. The number of clubs has declined from 25,000 to 22,000 in the last decade, but they now have more members on average.

“Our infrastructure depends on volunteers, but they can’t formulate and implement policies to close the gap,” Van den Tweel said. “If we are to get the most out of our sporting landscape we need to support clubs professionally so that they can work intensively with local councils and others to meet their objectives.”


Thank you for donating to

We could not provide the Dutch News service, and keep it free of charge, without the generous support of our readers. Your donations allow us to report on issues you tell us matter, and provide you with a summary of the most important Dutch news each day.

Make a donation