Without volunteers, sport grinds to a halt

In Swiss sport, nothing can be achie­ved without volun­t­ary commit­ment: accor­ding to surveys, 35 percent of the 2.1 million active members work on a volun­t­ary and hono­rary basis. In total, they perform 75 million hours of work per year.

They coach juni­ors, manage member­ship fees and pass water bott­les to thirsty runners – and they do it all for free: no sports club in Switz­er­land can do without volun­teers. ‘Volun­t­ary and hono­rary work is the basis of Swiss club sport,’ says Marc Müller, head of club manage­ment at the umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion Swiss Olym­pic. ‘Without unpaid commit­ment, the system would not func­tion.’ The figu­res alone reflect the signi­fi­cance of volun­teers for amateur sport: accor­ding to surveys by Swiss Olym­pic, 2.1 million child­ren, young people and adults are active in a sports club in this coun­try. Thirty-five percent of them, i.e. 735,000, hold a volun­t­ary posi­tion – as a board member, refe­ree or coach – or help out at events. The survey on sports clubs in Switz­er­land (‘Studie Sport­ver­eine Schweiz’), published by Swiss Olym­pic in 2017 (the latest figu­res will be gathe­red next autumn), states: ‘If we were to esti­mate the total volun­t­ary commit­ment in Swiss sports clubs, we would come up with a figure of around 44 million hours for volun­teers and 31 million hours for helpers. In other words, a total of about 75 million hours of volun­t­ary work are devo­ted to Swiss sports clubs every year.’ The umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion quan­ti­fies the finan­cial value of this unpaid work at around two billion Swiss francs. 

Volun­t­ary work makes people happy

Of all the asso­cia­ti­ons in Switz­er­land, sports clubs have the most members and also the most volun­teers. Howe­ver, volun­teer work has decli­ned slightly in recent years. Hono­rary posts in parti­cu­lar are facing growing chal­lenges: many shy away from the time commit­ment. Howe­ver, surveys also reveal that most volun­teers are highly satis­fied with their work. But why should someone devote dozens of hours to their hobby, along­side their job and family life? Having fun and socia­li­sing are at the top of the list. In addi­tion, there are important social moti­ves: volun­teers want to contri­bute to the asso­cia­tion and do some­thing meaningful with their invol­vement. Another important criter­ion is the oppor­tu­nity to expand one’s own network and know­ledge. Possi­ble finan­cial compen­sa­tion, on the other hand, is not a moti­va­tion to get invol­ved. It is rather the appre­cia­tion and reco­gni­tion by the asso­cia­tion that keep the volun­teers’ moti­va­tion high. Asso­cia­ti­ons and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, as well as the fede­ral govern­ment and the cantons, respond to this by promo­ting volun­t­ary work in a targe­ted manner and making it publicly visi­ble by offe­ring trai­ning and advan­ced cour­ses, as well as by issuing certi­fi­ca­tes of acti­vity and the asso­cia­ted skills. In 2020, Swiss Olym­pic, toge­ther with 27 other orga­ni­sa­ti­ons in and outside sport, also signed the mani­festo for the natio­nal promo­tion of volun­tee­ring (‘Mani­fest Natio­nale Förde­rung von frei­wil­li­gem Enga­ge­ment’). Because the umbrella orga­ni­sa­tion has long reco­g­nised: without volun­teers, Swiss sport would come to a standstill. 

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