‘Welfare Alliances’ – a new social role for football in Denmark: Reflections on changes and challenges

Søren Bennike1,2,3 & Laila Ottesen1,2
1 Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen;
2 Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health, University of Copenhagen;
3 Danish Football Association, Brøndby

While it is hardly revolutionary for sport clubs and sports organisations to be used for non-sporting objectives, the role of sport in resolving societal challenges seems to have progressed from passive and symbolic to more explicit and ambitious. An illustrative example is the ‘Welfare Alliance’ strategy initiated by the Danish Football Association (DFA), with the mission of enabling football to help address societal challenges such as health, integration, and unemployment.

On the DFA webpage it is stated that:

We call our collaboration with the municipalities ‘Welfare Alliances’ because the municipalities are the foundation of public social welfare efforts in Denmark and because the DFA is both able and willing to contribute to this work. (DFA 2017a).

Against this backdrop, our paper explores the position of football as a ‘provider of social welfare’ in the organisations involved within Danish recreational football – namely a central umbrella organisation, six regional county units and approximately 1,600 local clubs.

Using document analysis, we point to organisational issues which we believe will complicate future efforts to promote the Welfare Alliance strategy. An overall key finding includes the identification of a system, anchored in governmental laws and organisational bylaws, which has provided a stable model for organising tournaments. This system is reflected in structures of formal control and informal routines, leaving relatively little room for football activities holding explicit non-sporting objectives, often organised in a form which does not include a tournament structure.

The analysis is especially relevant to practitioners and policy makers within the fields of recreational sport and welfare policy, at a time when sports organisations and municipalities are collaborating more than ever on social welfare efforts.

Download the full-text article here!

SØREN BENNIKE is Research Lead at the Danish Football Association and former post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise & Sports and the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport & Health, both at the University of Copenhagen. In 2016, he completed a PhD in humanities and social sports sciences at the University of Copenhagen. His research is mainly rooted in policy and politics, institutions and organisations, implementation and innovation – all related to sport.

LAILA OTTESEN is an associate professor at the Department of Exercise & Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. She is Head of section for Sport, Individual & Society, Deputy director of the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport & Health, and President-elect of the European Association for Sociology of Sport. She obtained a PhD in European ethnology from the University of Copenhagen. Her main research is rooted in the sociology of sport and health, summed up in the key words: sport and welfare policy, voluntary organisations, social capital, implementation, and innovation.

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