Part-time work in sport: an emerging model which needs support


Nicolas Verdon

President of the National Federation of Employment Sport and Leisure



“Uberisation”! It’s a fashionable word and we’ll probably hear it a lot during the French presidential campaign. Like all “in” words, it is used to mean various things. For some people it represents a new freedom of access to work and for others it challenges the social norms which have dominated our relationship with work over the last century.

Whatever the reality covered by this new word, it is undeniable that the classic working patterns enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century are changing. The model with the company at the centre of a production system, providing social protection and job security, has become more complicated with previously unimaginable flexibility. In its latest report the International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed that the traditional salaried job with a secure contract is giving way to new sorts of work and especially independent work. Only half the jobs in the world are salaried, and only 45% of these jobs are full-time. Permanent full-time work is therefore no longer the main form of work and employment.


New job opportunities in sport

With the arrival of a leisure civilisation, in the words of sociologist Joffre Dumazedier, our societies have had to reconsider the link between leisure and work. For a long time leisure was seen as a means of recruiting strength for work. During the 20th century this logic was turned on its head, and work came to be seen as an activity allowing individuals to develop their leisure opportunities. People negotiate their work commitments so as to profit fully from their own leisure opportunities. In this new vision of access to leisure, the sports sector has carved out the lion’s share.

In France, four out of five people claim to do or want to do a sport or physical activity, and in most cases their main motivation is health and well-being. The emergence of free, unstructured activities, the appetite for enjoyable outdoor activities and the boom in activities like running are all evidence of a trend towards freer practice, without constraints and the need for planning ahead.

This change is creating opportunities for jobs in the sports sector. Demand for sport has been increasing dramatically over the last fifteen years, bringing with it a steady 10% increase per year on average in job creations. The demand foe sport is accelerating and is in a constant state of “hyper-change”. As a result of this, training and courses for sports instructors are being continually adapted towards greater versatility. The operators are right to do this, and are offering new modules such as sport tourism, sport for health activities and sport in the workplace.


The appeal of self-employment

The new job forms often offer less security, and this is not just temporary. Part-time work has often been explained as a response to women working, and it needs to be accepted that this explanation is no longer valid. For part of the salaried workforce, salaried work is imposed and not a matter of choice, particularly for young people. Jobs in the services to people and caring sector are characterised by non-continuity: this is most evident in the arts, where in France the “intermittent du spectacle” regime has tried to make up for the precarious nature of the work.

Jobs in sport are also concerned. Employers’ lack of means, the seasonal nature of some activities, and the fact that activities often take place in the evening or, in France, on Wednesdays, are all factors that lead employees to adapt their working lives to market constraints. They need to have several different jobs and employers in order to build up a professional career. They have to work on their own, alternating salaried and freelance employment, whether they want to or not. In this context of insecurity and weak employers, the idea of becoming self-employed, encouraged by governments, is very tempting. However, in a sector where the body itself is the work tool, there is a big risk of failing to ensure sufficient suitable social coverage specific to the demands of the activity. There are numerous examples of young sports instructors who start out as self-employed, tempted by the apparent freedom and sometimes encouraged by their employers, only to find themselves in a disastrous situation as soon as they suffer some physical problem. Working for oneself may seem very attractive, but the reality in the sport and leisure sector can be much more menacing: three or four years after setting up as self-employed, the social situation may actually be much worse than it was beforehand.

” There is a big risk of failing to benefit from suitable social protection”

Devise new forms of social protection and coverage

Our social protection system was not developed to deal with non-continuous work or careers containing periods in and out of work. Since part-time, non-continuous work is becoming the norm, we need to devise ways of maintaining rights when switching from one employer to another.

The latest developments are moving in this direction, with the creation of personal activity accounts and before that, the transferability of rights. It should be possible for independent workers to acquire rights just like salaried staff, so that it is easier to move from one status to the other. The experiments being carried out in France and Belgium by SMart, and also by the National Federation of Employment Sport and Leisure regarding employer groups, are aimed at giving staff rights and an adapted legal, financial and fiscal framework offering greater security and the chance of professional fulfilment. The idea of cooperating to develop projects together rather than competing, and of seeing the positive benefits of a mixed, multicultural society should result in the development  of collaboration between all the sport and leisure stakeholders.

Sandrino Graceffa, the Director General of SMart, who has contributed to this revue, thinks that Europe should be a space for social innovation and the invention of a new model of social protection for salaried workers. I agree with him.

Sport et citoyenneté