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.