Is grassroots sport ready for the future?

Written by: Karin Book

CHANGE project partner - Malmö University hosted the first workshop on the topic of "Is grassroots sport ready for the future?". Read the report below.

A lot of reflections, ideas and smiles filled the STORM Innovation Lab at Malmö University, when researchers at the Department of Sport Sciences together with ENGSO and the National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark gathered representatives from the Swedish and Danish grassroots sports movements to be creative about the current state and future dreams of the movements.

At a conference a few years ago, I heard a colleague describing organized sport, or more specifically the grassroots sports movement, as a dinosaur. Dinosaurs are no doubt big and interesting, but not very modern, creatures. Mainly young boys seem to be interested in them during a certain period in life. How could we then understand and develop the European grassroots sports movement in order to be up to date and relevant in the future?”

– Karin Book, Malmö University

Change Workshop

The aim of the workshop was to start the process of understanding how to build competitive and relevant sports organizations to enable long term development. We focused on identifying the state of the European grassroot sports movement with special focus on challenges and opportunities faced by the movement today. What does this mean for the sports movement? What does a desirable future for the sport organizations look like? 


By gathering stakeholders with great insights, we were able to collect valuable information for the CHANGE project and provide a platform for exchange of knowledge and experiences for the participants.  Just by bringing them together the process starts.


Altogether 32 representatives from sport federations in Sweden and Denmark participated. Some represented umbrella organizations, like regional and national sport confederations, while the majority represented special sports federations. Big sports like football, handball, gymnastics and swimming, as well as smaller sports like parachute, surfing/ SUP and fencing, were covered. The mix and energy in the room was amazing!

Outcomes & processes


What challenges are we (as an organization and sport) facing today? 


At first, the participants worked in groups based on nationality, with Swedes and Danes in separate groups. All members in the groups started by reflecting on challenges individually. These were then discussed within the group and clustered on the whiteboard. Each group presented their thoughts to everyone. Already here, based on the oral presentations and discussions held in connection with the challenge theme, the following general conclusions appeared:


  • There are extensive similarities, and only a few contextual/national differences between the sports and countries. 
  • Many of the challenges were discussed either based on the gap between the big, societal challenges and the practical, everyday reality of the sport federations and clubs, or based on the central/national strategies and visions versus the practical reality of the sport federations and clubs. Those gaps formed a common thread through the day. 
  • The role of the umbrella organizations to bridge the gap between the grand challenges and ambitions, and the strategies, implementations and operations in the grassroots sport clubs was emphasized. 
  • The fact that the grassroots sports movement is based on voluntary work was another theme that returned in the discussions during the whole day.
  • Finally, a lack of readiness, and even resistance, to change in the grassroots sports organizations was expressed by numerous participants.


Change Workshop 2

After the presentations and joint reflections, all participants had to prioritize the challenges.  Based on their prioritization, a list of “top challenges” could be established:

  • Recruitment of leaders; competence development; the voluntary, non-profit structure of the movement.
  • Information and knowledge about the (potential) members. 
  • Courage to change and develop; relevance.
  • Visibility and communication.
  • Modernization and digitalization.
  • Facilities. 
  • Inclusion. 


To increase the exchange and energy, after the first challenge theme the participants were mixed in new groups, with both Swedes and Danes. The new groups worked with identifying obstacles standing in the way for tackling the challenges. These were the identified obstacles: 

  • Lack of time and competence (with a reference mainly to the voluntary structure of the sports movement).  
  • Lack of courage and resistance to change. 
  • Lack of trust.
  • Lack of cooperation and exchange of knowledge between federation and club
  • Lack of resources.


Obviously, sport organizations have several shortcomings in a world that requires adoptions, changes and creativity. Thankfully, they also have a number of strengths and opportunities. Therefore, the next task for the participants was to point out   super powers of the sports movement:

  • Opportunity to influence and reach out globally. 
  • The size of the movement. 
  • Sport as a unifying force. 
  • Pool of skills and experience. 
  • Opportunity to reach out to young people/leaders. 
  • Experience of innovative solutions from the pandemic. 
  • The solution! 


So, there are strong powers to build and capitalize on. Used properly, sport was considered to have the advantage of being the solution to a lot of the grand challenges. That led us to the last theme of the day: to look ahead and think big. These are their visions and ideas on future grassroots sports: 

  • Inclusive, accessible sport for all. 
  • That sport is valued more and gets a clearer voice in, for example, planning. 
  • Sharing: that clubs and even federations can exchange experiences and share resources, such as administrative staff. 
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The workshop clearly showed that sport has the potential of being a positive force, but there is still a lack of change readiness! So, how to proceed?


This was the first of several workshops on the same topic. Similar workshops will be held in different parts of Europe to cover different contexts and perspectives. 


Also, a second workshop will be organized for the same group of people and organizations in Malmö next year. The second workshop will be solution-oriented, focusing on innovation and change management to develop sustainable, competitive, and relevant sports organizations.

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