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15.10.2020 - Ausgabe: 5/2020

Development trends in the use of sport spaces - building blocks for a sustainable sports space infrastructure

By Oliver Wulf, University of Wuppertal, working area sports sociology

© Stefanos Lespouridis / stock.adobe.com

Sports spaces provide the tangible basis for local exercise activities. If cities and local authorities had no special areas and did not design and promote sports and exercise spaces in conjunction with other providers, residents would not be easily able to exercise. This is why for decades sports space infrastructure has been promoted in separate expansion programmes with regard to their essential function for the achievement of health, social and leisure policy goals. In addition, sport spaces have also recently been thematised as flagships for the cultural quality of cities. Moreover - in view of the consequences of the changes in values in our society - a critical discussion is taking place about the quality of our sports facilities (comp. Wetterich, Eckl & Schabert, 2009).

In this regard it is not only the commitment of residents to sport and exercise but also the sports space concept that needs be viewed from multiple perspectives. On the one hand there are built installations - sports facilities in the narrower sense - in local authority districts. These include basic sports facilities, i.e. indoor and open-air pools, sports grounds and gymnastics and sports halls. Sports facilities/spaces in the wider sense include outdoor facilities (i.e. children's playgrounds and kickabout pitches), covered facilities in residential areas, local recreation facilities and sports amenities (comp. Dieckert & Koch, 2001; Koch, 1997; Bach, 1991).

Sustainable sport space development planning does not just require knowledge of the number, equipment and financing of sports facilities but also evidence-based information about actual user behaviour and the subjective needs and expectations of the different user groups of these facilities. And this must take into account that involvement in sports activities and active leisure is subject to significant change and influenced by development processes in society as a whole. In addition to the "classic" sports facility users (children, youths, young adults and competitive athletes), there are now also an increasing number of "new" user groups (i.e. women, older people, migrants) for whom relaxation, fitness and health are often very important. Among the consequences of this development is that the longstanding "fit" between the locally available sports facilities and the involvement in sport no longer exists. Empirical evidence illustrates that - i.e. for the traditional sports of tennis and athletics - the demand for sports facilities has in some instances significantly outstripped the existing local authority sports facility offering (vgl. Hübner & Wulf, 2014).

In addition, local authority sport policy and local authority sport infrastructure planning have for several years faced a complex set of issues (vgl. Hübner & Wulf, 2009). This is because they must take into account that the bulk of the country's more than 100,000 local authority core sports facilities have a high average age since they were built over 45 years ago - in the era of the "golden plan". Many sports facilities are in need of renovation, with the German Institute of Urban Affairs (DIFU) estimating the funding requirement for local authority sports facilities several years ago at around EUR 35 billion (vgl. Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik, 2008). The German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) recently estimated a requirement of approximately EUR 31 billion. (comp. DOSB, 2018).

The financial scope to maintain or expand existing sports infrastructure is severely limited in many local authorities by growing indebtedness. In the federal state of North Rhine Westphalia alone around 170 local authorities were for many years constrained by a fiscal stability plan (vgl. Ministerium für Inneres und Kommunales Nordrhein-Westfalen, 2017). Budget consolidation measures often also apply to sport, i.e. through the introduction of sports facility use fees or the closure of cost-intensive sports facilities (vgl. Bund der Steuerzahler, 2014).

Those drafting local authority sports policy and sports administrators can only sustainably organise their planning and administrative action based on solid data in light of this huge process of change in sport and society. And this will only be possible if the information situation for the players in the political field of local authority sport is systematically improved (vgl. Breuer, 2005; Breuer & Rittner, 2002).

In order to be able to quantify the dynamic of change in citizens' sports activities and the associated consequences for sports facilities and sports space demand as precisely and reliably as possible, a "longitudinal study" on sports behaviour was conducted by the sports sociology area of the University of Wuppertal as part of the multi-year research project "Building blocks for a contemporary and sustainable sports facility infrastructure in North Rhine Westphalia" as well as a comprehensive re-analysis of a total of 23 representative sports behaviour studies in five cities in North Rhine Westphalia (comp. Hübner & Wulf, 2016). Some of the results of this research will be briefly presented below.[1]

In a broad understanding of sport that also includes exercise activities such as gentle cycling and walking around 70 to 80% of people define themselves as "engaging in sport and exercise" (comp. also Opp, 2012; Wulf, 2014).

Of particular interest are the developments in relation to the so-called "active rate" in the five longitudinal studies. Whilst in the first survey period (2002-2007) the active rate (engaging in exercise at least 1 x per week) stood at an average of 70.7%, in the second survey period (2013-2015) a slight increase to an average of 76.8% was reported. Furthermore, in the first survey period the general active rate of women was still perceptibly lower than that of men. In the second survey period, in contrast, there were scarcely measurable differences in the markedness of gender-specific active rates.

An age-specific observation of the development of the active rate between the two survey periods showed further interesting results. Whilst in the 2002-2007 survey period there was still a discernible decline in the active rate from the age of 50, the fall in the surveys from 2013 to 2015 is markedly smaller. Among 40- to 49-year-olds and 50- to 59-year-olds in particular the active rate remains at a consistently high level and still lies significantly above the 70% mark.

There is a wide range of sports and exercise activities in all the sports behaviour surveys analysed, with over 100 different types of sport mentioned generally.[2] Top of the "hit parade" are the activities of cycling, swimming, fitness training, jogging/running and football.

Also interesting, in turn, are the longitudinal developments. For this the initial value for sports and exercise activities from the 2002-2007 period is set at 100%. In the event of a gain in the following survey period the value grows to more than 100%, in the event of a loss it falls below 100%. Increases to over 300% are shown as a numerical value for presentation purposes.

The longitudinal analyses of the twenty most frequently mentioned sport types from the 2002-2007 show very different trends. While most sports and exercise activities in the 2013-2015 survey period also remain roughly at their initial level or decline or increase only slightly in importance, there are some clear "winners" and "losers". 

The activity of yoga shows the largest rate of increase between the two survey periods, while the fitness training/gymnastics exercise area again achieved significant increases in the second survey period despite being among the most popular activities from 2002 to 2007. In a slightly less marked form this also goes for the activity of jogging/running. In contrast, there is a marked decline in the importance of inline/roller sport (in particular in inline skating) and basketball (in particular in the streetball version).

Approximately 60 to 65% of sports and exercise activities are organised at private level. The proportion of sports clubs in the organisation of the pursuit of sport lies - depending on the size of the town - at between 15 and 25%. Meanwhile, commercial providers frequently achieve proportions of more than 10%. A gender-specific division of the three abovementioned categories (private level, sports club and commercial provider) shows that private organisation and club organisation are more frequently mentioned by men. Women, on the other hand, tend to favour commercial providers.

Reanalysis also showed that a large proportion of people's sports and exercise activities are pursued in sports facilities. Around half of sport and active recreation takes place in parks, woodland or on paths and roads. In turn, only around two fifths of sport is pursued in basic provision sports facilities (sports halls, sports fields, swimming pools). This initially surprising finding can also be explained by looking at the sport-specific use of facilities. This shows that the very exercise activities that rank highest in popularity such as cycling, running, walking and hiking are pursued almost exclusively in these venues.

Another objective of sport behaviour surveys is to determine the future potential of sports. This shows both the gender-specific proportion and the average age of the desired taster sport types. For yoga, for example, women comprise over 80% of the "taster potential" and the average interested person is around 45 years old.

The analyses carried out as part of the state project offer a variety of revealing and evidence-based findings about changes in and the stability of people's sport and exercise activities. And it is not just the classic competitive sport that plays a major role, with "active recreation" also becoming increasingly popular with many population groups. Sports administrators and sports policy makers, however, only focus on these "informal leisure athletes" to a certain extent as their activities are mainly privately organised. But it is important to take greater account of the "self-organised" in the planning of sports facilities and local sport and exercise spaces in particular with a view to achieving health, social and leisure policy goals.

[1]           All of the sport behaviour surveys analysed were based on a broad understanding of sport. This means that information about all forms of sports activity (i.e. active recreation, leisure or competitive sport) was explicitly elicited. In addition, the results only refer to the population aged 10 to 70 years. More detailed methodological information can be found in the project report (comp. Hübner & Wulf, 2016, p. 56 et seq).

[2]              The participants in the surveys were able to name up to three sports and exercise activities.



Bach, L. (1991). Sport auf Sportgelegenheiten - Ein neues Konzept für den Sport und die Stadtplanung. Sportunterricht, 40 (9), 335–341.

Breuer, C. (2005). Steuerbarkeit von Sportregionen. Schorndorf: Hofmann.

Breuer, C. & Rittner, V. (2002). Berichterstattung und Wissensmanagement im Sportsystem. Konzeption einer Sportverhaltensberichterstattung für das Land Nordrhein-Westfalen. Köln: Strauß.

Bund der Steuerzahler. (2014). Sparen in der Kommune. Tipps für Kommunalpolitiker. Berlin.

Deutscher Olympischer Sportbund (Hrsg.) (2018). Bundesweiter Sanierungsbedarf von Sportstätten. Zugriff am 24.09.2020 unter https://cdn.dosb.de/alter_Datenbestand/fm-dosb/arbeitsfelder/umwelt-sportstaetten/Downloads/Sanierungsbedarf_DOSB-DST-DStGB.pdf

Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik (DIFU). (2008). Der kommunale Investitionsbedarf 2006 bis 2020. Berlin.

Dieckert, J. & Koch, J. (2001). Sinn-Richtungen für Spiel- und Bewegungsräume. In J. Funke-Wieneke & K. Moegling (Hrsg.), Stadt und Bewegung (S. 76–86). Kassel: Prolog.

Hübner, H. & Wulf, O. (2009). Strategien und Erfahrungen mit kommunaler Sportstättenentwicklungsplanung in Deutschland. In E. Balz & D. Kuhlmann (Hrsg.), Sportentwicklung: Grundlagen und Facetten (S. 141–157). Aachen: Meyer & Meyer.

Hübner, H. & Wulf, O. (2014). Verhaltensbezogene Ansätze in der kommunalen Sportentwicklungsplanung. In A. Rütten, S. Nagel & R. Kähler (Hrsg.), Handbuch Sportentwicklungsplanung (Beiträge zur Lehre und Forschung im Sport, 181, S. 109–117). Schorndorf: Hofmann.

Hübner, H. & Wulf, O. (2016). Bausteine für eine zeitgemäße und zukunftsfähige Sport-stätteninfrastruktur in Nordrhein-Westfalen. Kurzbericht. Wuppertal. 

Koch, J. (1997). Zukunftsorientierte Sportstättenentwicklung. Ein Orientierungshandbuch für Vereine und Kommunen. Aachen: Meyer & Meyer.

Ministerium für Inneres und Kommunales Nordrhein-Westfalen (2017): Kommunen in Nordrhein-Westfalen in der Haushaltssicherung. Entwicklung 2006 bis 2016. Düsseldorf. 

Wetterich, J., Eckl, S. & Schabert, W. (2009). Grundlagen zur Weiterentwicklung von Sportanlagen. Köln: Strauß.

Wopp, C. (2012). Orientierungshilfe zur kommunalen Sportentwicklungsplanung (Zukunftsorientierte Sportstättenentwicklung, 16). Frankfurt am Main: Landessportbund Hessen.

Wulf, O. (2014). Empirische Analysen zur Entwicklung des Sportverhaltens. In A. Rütten, S. Nagel & R. Kähler (Hrsg.), Handbuch Sportentwicklungsplanung (Beiträge zur Lehre und Forschung im Sport, 181, S. 187–195). Schorndorf: Hofmann.

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