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Covid-19 pandemic costs Italy 1.760 million members but does not erase the desire to play sport


One million 760,000 fewer members and 5166 fewer amateur associations and clubs. So much has the Covid-19 pandemic cost the Italian sports system. This is what emerges from the report 'I Numeri dello Sport 2019-2020' elaborated by CONI's Centre for Studies and Statistical Offices and presented today at the Foro Italico by the President of the Italian National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malagò, the President of ISTAT, Gian Carlo Blangiardo and the Secretary General of CONI, Carlo Mornati.

In 2020, the sports movement promoted under the aegis of CONI collected more than 13 million 113 thousand registered members and 115 thousand sports clubs, registering, compared to the previous year, a decrease of more than 1,760 million registered members/registered members to be attributed mainly to the health emergency caused by the pandemic. Overall, there are 11 million 857 thousand registered or practising athletes in 2020; 731 thousand are managers; 490 thousand technicians and 101 thousand officials.

In detail, the self-declarations of the Sports Promotion Bodies (EPS) - provided to the CONI Sports Recognition Office - for 2020 also identify 7,637 million practitioners (approximately 1.3 million less than the pre-Covid 19 year), 234 thousand sports managers, and 225 thousand coaches registered by the EPS through the ASDs and SSDs affiliated to and registered with the CONI Register.

After the boom in memberships driven by the Azzurri's victories in Rio 2016, in the four-year Olympic period 2017-2020, the general trends were affected by influences related to the unfavourable economic situation, the demographic decline and the related intergenerational imbalance of the population, as well as the uncertainties generated by the reform of the sports sector and ultimately the Covid-19 health emergency.

The pandemic and the first lockdown, with the impossibility of being able to carry out non-competitive activities in indoor venues or educational-promotional activities in school gyms, inevitably had an impact on federal activities, especially those of a promotional-scholastic nature, with the most noticeable percentage changes being seen among EPS enrolments: -14.4 per cent of practitioners and -12.5 per cent of sports operators, while the decreases for FSN and DSA are smaller: -7.9% athletes -3.2% sports operators. In contrast, only 14 out of 61 FSN-DSA federations experienced an increase in the number of members.

Memberships also declined: 146,961 (compared to 154,128 in 2019), with the number of Amateur Sports Associations/Societies registered in the CONI Register increasing from 120,635 to 115,469 separate legal entities.  

Factors that mitigated the loss of membership include the facilitations provided for membership and affiliations, the practice of remote sporting activities during the lock-down or carried out outdoors in the summer season, and the consolidation of certain federal sectors related to the new sporting disciplines approved in recent years.

In 2020, 71.6 per cent of the registered members are gathered in ten federations: led by football (1,024,726 athletes), tennis (325,954), volleyball (308,169), basketball (293,090) and athletics (211,771). In terms of the number of sports clubs, football (11,915), volleyball (4,331), basketball (3,299), tennis (3,168) and cycling (2,980) stand out. Among the DSAs, draughts (46,551 athletes) and, in terms of the number of clubs, sports billiards (860) stand out.

71.8% of registered athletes, sportsmen, and women for FSN and DSA are men, and 53.6% are under 18. Among FSN athletes, 34.9% are registered in football, 8.9% in basketball and 8.3% in tennis. Female athletes, on the other hand, mainly opted for volleyball (21.4%, around 235,000), gymnastics (10.4%) and equestrian sports (8.3%). The number of female managers is on the rise, occupying 12.7% of federal offices (+1.8%), the first effects of the reforms introduced by CONI.

The federal sports world suffers from Italy's historical territorial divide. In the North, 56% of the athletes and 48% of the Italian sports clubs are concentrated, mainly in the North-West regions. In the Centre, 22% of athletes reside, and 22% of sports clubs operate. In the South, the incidence is 22% of athletes and 30% of clubsLombardy is the region with the highest number of registered athletes (806,736) and sports clubs (9,165) and accounts for weight of19 % of national membership. With 32.63% of the membership (1,377,032) gathered in the three regions (Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino Alto-Adige) that will host the 2026 Milan Cortina Olympic Games.

'We are resuming this old and healthy habit between ISTAT and CONI, two public bodies, with the burdens and honours of being in the public domain,' said Malagò opening the presentation. The habit of telling what happened is not only important but a duty. We do so with the most authoritative interlocutor, whom we thank for his extraordinary cooperation. These figures are heavily skewed by what has happened not only in our country and cannot be disregarded. It must also be taken into account that in the area of memberships and affiliations, there are federations that make memberships during the calendar year and others during the sporting year. The number of members has fallen to 2008 levels. There was also a drop in membership, but honestly, we would have thought the numbers would be higher. Despite the widespread trend in our country's sporting culture, there will also be a significant loss in the sporting year 2021. These are very important figures, and I would also like to emphasise that the demographic aspect is the first concern of our world, which those in charge must answer. Italy is stuck at an apparent figure of 60 million. We are working on the human material that in 20 years has lost 5 million Italians, normally the people we use to make our country great in sports. Suppose we lose 5 million in 20 years, even though we have the best technicians and absolutely the best organisation. In that case, it is clear that if something does not happen, it will be impossible to achieve the results that made us a model to imitate.

'The CONI data assume an inevitable decline after the pandemic year,' added Mornati. These numbers help us understand sectoral trends and allow us to reflect on the future impact of the birth rate factor. When the basin dries up, a fabric of almost 5 million potential athletes disappears, as seen from the trend over the last 25 years. We will see the effect on team sports in the future, but those entering the competitive phase for two years have disappeared. In three years, we will understand the effects of what has occurred'.

Membership numbers are falling but, according to ISTAT surveys in the year 2021, sedentary behaviour continues to decrease - to 33.7 % - (to 35.2 % in 2020, while it was as high as 41.2 % in 2013), even if continuous sports practice among the youngest is decreasing (at the same time, the proportion of 6-14 year-olds who practised sport three or more times a week has fallen sharply), with increasing sedentary behaviour precisely among adolescents: those who have paid, more than others, for a health emergency that has conditioned their lifestyles and sports-related behaviour. In 2022, however, a return to normality in this age group is expected.

More generally, despite the difficulties, the population still tried to remain physically active. However, how sports were practised has changed, often in an unstructured way: the proportion of those who practised sport in paid venues (especially among women), who took lessons or paid a fee has fallen.

'The practice of sport is fundamental because sport is enjoyable and it is health, a way to improve the quality of life,' Blangiardo pointed out. Sport is also an economy, and the changes that take place affect this sector. A real storm happened with the pandemic. In some ways, there has been some progress in the practice of sports, we are a country in which there is increasing physical activity, but with the pandemic, the first important sign we see is that teenagers locked up at home who have suffered a lack of sporting and socialising activity. More generally, we have to work harder in sports than in other European countries'. 

Moreover, the impact of the health (and economic) emergency has been very strong: in 2021, only 12.7 per cent of the households residing in Italy (3 million 300 thousand) incurred expenses for sports activities (they were 22.9 per cent in 2019); again in 2021, 2.3 per cent (600 thousand households) incurred expenses for sports items, compared to 3.1 per cent in 2019. Moreover, young and large families bear the costs of sporting activity the most, and the current economic situation could precisely reduce the practice of sport in families with fewer economic resources.

The contraction in spending inevitably affected the sector's workforce, estimated at 104,000, down from 2020 (128,000) and 2019 (132,000).

The desire to play sport, which has not succumbed to the pandemic, nevertheless represents an important base from which to restart while ensuring that the resumption of sporting activity is uniform across the territory and does not accentuate the disadvantage of the South and small municipalities. (foto Pagliaricci CONI)

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