Original publication: February 2016
Authors: University of Rome Foro Italico, Italy: Capranica Laura, Guidotti Flavia
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Qualifications/Dual Careers in Sports

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European elite athletes are expected to undertake higher education in combination with their sporting careers to achieve a holistic development and to advance their potential role in society and in the labour market. In the past decade, the European Parliament and Commission, the International Olympic Committee, the European Athlete as Student (EAS) network, and researchers fostered the development of a balanced combination of sports and education/work commitments (i.e., dual career) of elite athletes. However, the majority of Member States still provides limited support to the dual career of talented and elite athletes. Therefore, it is necessary that the European Parliament maintains this issue in its political agenda.

Strategies aligning university programmes with the national high performance pathway empower student-athletes and increase their international competitiveness. Comparative data indicate that student-athletes participating in the Olympic Games are more likely to win medals when compared with their non-student counterparts.

Competences in the field of sport and education mainly lie with Member States. Moreover, dual career presents relevant differences in relation to the sport-specific and education/work-specific requirements, and eligibility criteria for dual career programmes and services. Thus, the multiplicity of national approaches to dual career limits the possibility to gather harmonized data on European athletes integrated into the educational/working paths.

Dual career is a multi-faceted policy domain requiring the peculiar roles and responsibilities of individuals, stakeholder organisations, and Governments. Furthermore, it needs a well-structured cooperation system, the support of specialized personnel, and a systematic monitoring of the effectiveness of dual career programmes. Actually, only few Member States present well-organized and extensive dual career systems ruled by formal agreements. Conversely, the majority of countries encompass fragmented actions and policies related to some aspects of dual career. In this framework, the well-established European platforms (e.g., the EU Sport Forums, the meetings of sports directors, sport and education ministers, and expert groups, the conferences of the Council Presidency, of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport of the Council of Europe, and of the EAS network) represent valuable resources to enhance cooperation between relevant stakeholders at national and European levels.

To enhance the cooperation and networking among stakeholders, to raise the awareness and to collect data on specific dual career issues, the European Commission has provided financial support for 18 trans-national projects and a European study to develop a set of minimum quality requirements for dual career services and facilities.

The number of international competitions has increased and temporary or long-term transnational athletic migration has become a widespread phenomenon. To support transnational mobility of European student-athletes, an international cooperation between European sport and educational/work stakeholders is strongly envisaged. In particular, to facilitate the athletes’ cross-border mobility, distance learning/work, establishment of dual career exchange educational programmes between schools/universities, and dual career mobility networks between service providers are required.

In line with the European Lifelong Learning Strategy for the Sport and Active Leisure sector and the European Qualification Framework, the development and implementation of an integrated competence-based approach to education/work could ensure athletes the recognition of capabilities acquired through non-formal and informal sports education as a part of or in addition to their formal education. Conversely, a limited cooperation between European educational institutions and sport bodies is in place and fractional statistics at national and European levels to monitor the profile of qualified sport staff and their employment condition are needed.


The aim of this work is to contribute to the implementation of dual career at European and national levels. The present study will: 1) analyse the scientific literature, the EU-funded projects on the dual career of student-athletes, and the EU-funded “Study on quality requirements for dual career services”; 2) provide an overview of different dual career policies/strategies adopted by Member States; 3) highlight main dual career challenges related to the phenomenon of European migrating student-athletes; 4) consider the competences and qualifications in sports in light of a lifelong learning programme for athletes; and 5) offer a contribution to EU policies for the implementation of dual career for athletes.

In the present work, the term ‘elite’ is inclusive of athletes competing at international level, playing sports at professional level, and young talented athletes trained in sports academies.

The methodology encompassed the analysis of the scientific literature and of the EU-funded projects, and the analysis of national data related to eight Member States selected according to their representativeness of: 1) the northern, central and southern European geographical areas, including at least one island region; and 2) the typology of policy approaches to educational services for elite athletes in higher education.

The following aspects were considered:

  • Presence of a national network between different dual career stakeholders;
  • Identification of the talented and elite athletes eligible for dual career services;
  • Presence of well-established dual career programmes and services at educational, work, and sport levels;
  • Presence of a monitoring system for the assessment of the dual career programmes, policies, and progress of athletes.

The following recommendations for European policies in support of dual career programmes/services at national and European levels are suggested:

  • Adoption of a clear and universal definition of talented and elite athletes eligible for dual career paths and programmes;
  • Enforcement of minimum quality requirements for dual career programmes and services to be put in place in the Member States.
  • Establishment of a European-wide harmonized monitoring system to assess the efficacy of dual career policies, programmes and services;
  • Support of national and European networks to continue/improve the communication and the cooperation among different dual career stakeholders;
  • Support of formal exchange agreements between national and European sport organizations, educational institutions, and dual career providers to sustain dual career paths of migrating European athletes;
  • Establishment of dedicated educational programmes for specialized dual career personnel to be employed by dual career providers, teachers, relatives, coaches, sports managers, and employers;
  • Establishment of dual career quality certification for sport and academic bodies and companies providing quality dual career programmes and engaging specialized staff;
  • Support of an integrated approach to education/work including the recognition of non-formal and informal education acquired through sports;
  • Establishment of European and national funding systems to implement dual career policies and to foster further research in this area.

The EU actions related to this policy domain should pertain to the supervision of the development of national strategies. In particular, the following aspects should be considered:

  • The adoption of a common terminology and reliable methodology for data collection to allow monitoring of the effectiveness of sport-policy actions across Member States through cadenced national progress reports;
  • The establishment of specific agreements between Member States based on minimum quality requirement services for dual career;
  • The provision of sustainable financial support for EU higher educational programmes for dual career personnel;
  • The provision of sustainable financial support for EU dual career exchange programmes through the Erasmus+ Sport chapter;
  • The definition of specific tasks and deliverables for the establishment of a structured dialogue with stakeholders in the sport, education, and work sectors at national and EU levels;
  • The accreditation of dual career providers in the sports, education and work sectors that engage in extensive dual career quality services, employ dual career personnel, and monitor systematically the sport and academic/work progresses of athletes;
  • The recognition of quality performances of dual career providers when specific dual career objectives and policy measures are met.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/573-416

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Figure 1: Relationships between European dual career stakeholders

Figure 1 summarizes the multiplicity of the stakeholders involved in the dual career of talented/elite athletes by presenting, in different colours, the micro (e.g., the individual athlete), meso (e.g., parents, peers, teachers/employers, coaches, sport managers), macro (e.g., sport clubs/federations, educational institutions, and labour market), and policy (e.g., national and European governing bodies) dimensions of dual career. The arrows indicate the relationship between the different stakeholders, in relation to its strength (e.g., very strong, strong, moderate), proximity (e.g., direct, not necessarily direct, indirect), frequency (e.g., very frequent, frequent, less frequent), and direction (e.g., unidirectional or bidirectional).


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