Membership fees continue to rise, so the Flemish Sports Federation is asking for tax relief for those who register in a sports club

Athletes must be able to contribute up to 150 euros in membership fees in their annual tax return. With this striking proposal, the Flemish Sports Federation wants to do something about the increasingly expensive membership fees.

Anton Goegebeur as Tom Le Bacq

It may be difficult for those who have to pay the membership fee for the new sports season this month. Sports are steadily becoming more expensive. In recent years, seven in ten clubs have increased their membership fees by an average of 15 percent. At football clubs, prices around 300 euros are no longer an exception. The price increase is not so much to feed the coffers, but to compensate for the increased costs for accommodation, sports equipment and maintenance.

The ever-increasing membership fee is worrying the Flemish Sports Federation. It threatens to be too high a barrier for those who want to play sports in a club. One in ten clubs has already seen one or more members drop out due to the increased membership fee. The federation calls on the government to intervene by ensuring that all club members can contribute up to 150 euros in membership fees in their annual tax return.

READ ALSO. Football club scraps entrance fees for youth matches: “Everyone should be able to attend his or her child’s football for free”

Governments that strive for better general health know what to do, says Pieter Hoof, general director at the Flemish Sports Federation. “Encouraging people to exercise more can contribute to this. Sport has the unique ability to have a positive impact on mental well-being, physical health and health expenditure.” A 2021 study showed that every athlete who joins a sports club provides society with around €1,200 in health, wellbeing and wider social benefits.

It is already possible to mute the membership fee. Health insurance funds reimburse part of the costs. In Flanders, this amount varies between 15 and 45 euros per year, depending on the health insurance company and the province. It is too limited and not the same for everyone, says Hoof. “We are pushing for a tax reduction for an equal amount for all athletes. We propose 150 euros, but it is of course up to the government to determine the amount up to which it wants to provide financial oxygen. “


READ ALSO. How youth football is becoming increasingly expensive: membership fees are so high that most clubs have to offer payment plans

The proposal is still looking for a listening ear. There will be little movement before the elections. Federal Minister of Finance Vincent Van Peteghem (CD&V) does not want to respond to the question and leaves it up to Flanders to decide whether or not to allow discounts. “We are in favor of all measures that can get even more people moving,” responds Flemish Minister of Sports Ben Weyts (N-VA). “This kind of taxation is of course federal, but we hope that they take it seriously and study it at that level. It would be nice if taxation would encourage positive choices more, especially because a more sporty population is a healthier population that therefore has to rely less on social security (also federal).”

The Healthy Sports knowledge center also hopes that the proposal will be taken seriously. Chairman and sports doctor Frank Pauwels agrees that the benefits that sports and exercise offer remain underutilized in society today. Nearly two-thirds of Flemish people do too little physical activity in their free time. “This increases their risk of a chronic condition. Consider diseases of the cardiovascular system such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, cancer and psychological conditions such as depression.”

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