the jostled sports association sector


The associative world certainly still weighs heavily in the French sports landscape, but it is singularly jostled. The health crisis, in 2020 and 2021, is no stranger to this, amplifying trends that had already emerged: decline in the number of licensees, erosion of the ranks of volunteers or even changes in sports practices. So much so that today, while the public authorities, thanks to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, are pushing the French to practice more sport, the question arises of the capacity of this sector to respond to these different challenges and to to evolve.

This is what emerges in particular from a study on the sports sector published by Groupe BPCE on Thursday 26 January. “The associative world is challenged both in its practices and its governancenotes Alain Tourdjam, the director of studies and foresight of the mutual banking group. And there is a real subject: does this associative world have the capacity to catch up with what was already underway before the health crisis? »

“The period 2000-2020 was characterized by three trends: a ceiling in practice (particularly licensed), a diversification of the forms of practice and the aspirations of practitioners, a deinstitutionalization of practices”, had also highlighted the Center for Sports Law and Economics (CDES) in a study on the expectations and needs of sports stakeholders, published in May 2022. The latter evoked an associative model and club practice “showing the first signs of shortness of breath, sometimes reinforced by the health crisis”.

Fewer licensees and volunteers

The associative world drains 20% of French people who practice sport: 365,000 sports associations bring together 14.4 million licensees (at the end of 2021), according to figures cited by BPCE. It is far from negligible. But this number of members is down sharply: − 22% compared to 2019, i.e. 4 million fewer licensees, according to BPCE, which estimates that “the signs of a decline in the practice of associations were already palpable as early as 2017”.

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“The year 2018 marked the first significant drop in sports licenses (-70,000)”, had explained for its part the CDES in its study, pointing to a further drop of 7% in licenses in 2020 and seeing “probably the sign of a confirmation of this trend”.

In the fall of 2022, in front of senators and deputies, the Minister of Sports and the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, however wanted to be reassuring. “The number of licensees could return to the level it had reached before the health crisis, or even exceed it thanks to the dynamics of the Olympic Games”, she said.

As for volunteers, whom BPCE estimates at 180,000 full-time equivalents in sports associations, “This is one of the issues that poses a problem for the future of the latter”considers Alain Tourdjman, highlighting their aging and their non-return, for some, after the crisis due to Covid-19: “for local elected officials, the main issue in the conduct of sports policies is the volunteering crisis”.

The CDES study said the same thing, presenting the loss of a significant number of volunteer leaders and their non-replacement “ as the major subject post Covid-19: “Local authorities consider that the remobilization of volunteers is a major issue. »

Evolution of practices

The decline in the number of licensees reflects one thing in particular: “ there is a difficulty for the associative sector to capture changes”, explains Alain Tourdjam, citing the demand for sports practices oriented towards health and well-being, contact with nature, with more flexibility (time slots, prices) or a diversification of the methods of practice (individualized support).

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The CDES had also highlighted “the difficulty of sports associations to adapt” to the new context opened up or amplified by the health crisis and “to propose new offers” to deal with it. His study had put forward a telling figure: in 2018, more than 50% of practitioners over the age of 15 were already involved in an unsupervised sporting activity.


A phenomenon illustrates the gap that can exist between demand and supply for associations: the rise of digital tools, with online coaching, or the measurement of key effort indicators in order to better monitor performance and be able to share or compare them.

The use of these tools was amplified during the confinement. “This digitization is underdeveloped in the sports association environment”, notes Alain Tourdjman. ” This phenomenon can prove problematic for associations when their digital transition is proving to be very gradual, partly complicating the renewal of their offer.had considered the CDES.

Pessimism of the actors of the sports movement

For Alain Tourdjman, “It’s going to be complicated” for sports associations to catch up with the decline in the number of licensees. Could this put them at risk? BPCE recalls in its study that we must not forget that the associative framework ” it is the creation of social ties, obligations and commitments vis-à-vis others that make its sustainability and development all the more necessary”. But the banking group does not comment on the capacity for renewal of this sector.

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The CDES had reported that “several players in the sports movement” had informed of “their fear vis-à-vis the ability of clubs to adapt”. His study added that the players in the sports movement are “pessimistic, even very pessimistic about the sustainability of a model based on voluntary participation in free fall”: “The need for a reform of the associative model seems to be growing”, advanced the CDES.

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“The big challenge is to succeed in strengthening our sporting model”, recognized Amélie Oudéa-Castéra on several occasions in the fall of 2022 when presenting her budget and the issues related to the Olympic and Paralympic Games. If she called for a sport “more innovative, more modern” and that “develops economic models that allow it to have sustainable and autonomous resources”however, she did not detail how to achieve this in practice.

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