Democratic Participation in Voluntary Associations: A Multilevel Analysis of Sports Clubs in Europe

Bjarne Ibsen*, Karsten Elmose-Østerlund, Svenja Feiler, Christoph Breuer, Ørnulf Seippel, Jan Willem Van der Roest, Jeroen Scheerder

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Non-profit associations are usually democratically organized, and this feature plays a legitimizing role for the public support to associations. This article examines which characteristics at country level, organizational level and individual level can explain variations with regard to member engagement in the association democracy in sports clubs in Europe. The statistical analyses use data on 12,755 members from 642 sports clubs in ten European countries. The findings show that the majority of the members in sports clubs participate in the association democracy, but the level and form of engagement varies considerably. At the country level, no link between the democratic strength and quality of the countries on the one hand and member engagement on the other could be identified. Instead, characteristics at the organizational and individual level were found to be relevant. More concretely, (1) the size of the sports club, (2) the socioeconomic background of the members (gender, age and education), and (3) the way in which the members are involved in and affiliated to the club (engaged in voluntary work, participating in social activities, etc.) were found to be significantly correlated with the engagement of members in the association democracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1148–1163
Number of pages16
Issue number5
Early online date22 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Macro, meso and micro level
  • Organizational characteristics
  • Participatory democracy


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