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Sport on a level playing field

Last updated 4 April
In Denmark, getting involved in sports is seen as essential not just for health, but also for social cohesiveness and even democracy. Sports are where people from different  backgrounds get together and interact. 

Danes love sport and many play the sport they like best for a lifetime. Three out of four Danish children participate in sport on a regular basis, and about half the adults in Denmark are members of an athletic club. Even the elderly keep fit with activities tailored to their age range, from group aerobics to weightlifting. Newcomers to Denmark are usually urged to join a sports team as soon as possible.

Danes are usually not hyper-competitive when they play sport, particularly as adults. Although they appreciate a well-fought match, enjoying the community of their teammates and other athletes is what’s really important. 


Handball – Danish invention, Danish passion  

Invented in Denmark in 1898, the game of team handball is a Danish passion. Professional team handball draws large crowds in arenas and on television, and amateur handball facilities can be found all over Denmark.    

A team handball is large – about the size of a large cantaloupe melon, as opposed to the plum-size handball known in the US and some other countries. The game of handball is aggressive and fast, with as many as 30 goals in an hourlong match.  

Both men and women play team handball, which is also popular in Korea, Russia, and France. The indoor version of the sport was introduced into the Olympics in 1972 for men and 1976 for women, and the Danish women’s team has won more gold medals in the sport than any other country.

Surrounded by water, Denmark loves sailing

Sport that involves the oceans and seas has a special meaning to Danes. Denmark has 8750 km of tidal coastline and a seafaring tradition that stretches back to Viking times. That gives Danes a special edge when it comes to water sport, including rowing, canoeing, and sailing.

Denmark has won 30 Olympic medals in sailing, including 12 gold medals.

Swimming is also a popular sport in Denmark, and public swimming halls are available all over the country. Most Danish children learn to swim at school.

Did you know

Sport on or in the water is a big deal in Denmark. The 8750 km of coastline probably has something to do with it.

UEFA Euro '92 Final

Memories of the 1992 championship

Football is also very popular in Denmark; Danish football clubs have a membership of more than 330,000, a big number in a country with a total population of 5.8 million.   

Denmark has a thriving professional and semi-professional football league in which local teams are intense rivals, plus a national football team made up of the best Danish players.

When meeting Danes of a certain age, you can get the conversation started by recalling the glories of the 1992 European Championship, when Denmark beat Germany 2-0. In the summer of 2021, the Danish National Team reached the semifinals at the UEFA Euro 2020, but lost 2-1 against England. 

Football was introduced to Denmark by British engineers who came to design the railroad system in the 1870s. 

Did you know

The Danish club model is built on volunteers and joint responsibility. Many important roles, such as coaches and league officials, are performed by volunteers.

Amateur sports associations

Sporting activity is predominantly organised in clubs – or associations, as they are often called. This structure has historic roots. Local sport associations were part of the civic organisations that were created in small rural communities to help residents sharpen their minds and physique. This principle was copied by workers in cities.  

Today, most sport clubs belong to one of three large confederations – the National Olympic Committee and Sports Federation of Denmark (DIF), the Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations (DGI), and the Danish Federation of Company Sports (DFIF).  

The Danish club model is built on volunteers and joint responsibility. Many important roles, such as coaches and league officials, are performed by volunteers. Only elite sports clubs, such as those producing Olympic athletes, have paid staff.

Both recreational sport associations and elite sports benefit from state and municipal financial support as a supplement to membership fees.  

Other sports that are popular in Denmark include gymnastics, badminton, basketball, and horseback riding. 

A country on two wheels

Bicycling is one of the primary forms of transportation in Denmark. In fact, 7 out of 10 of all Danes over the age of 6 own a bike. Danes ride to work, for fun and at a competitive level. During the summer of 2022, Denmark hosted the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. The first three stages of the race were held in Denmark, capturing the attention of cycling enthusiasts worldwide. Ultimately, 25-year-old Jonas Vingegaard emerged as the winner of the Tour de France 2022, making him the first Danish cyclist to achieve this esteemed honor since 1996. Find some of the most memorable pictures down below.