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Antwerp, active city

2013 European Capital of Sport, Antwerp has been leading by example for more than a decade now with its expansive sports policy called ‘Sporting A’, like the department in charge of its implementation. As Belgium’s second-largest city, Antwerp is on its way to establishing itself as the sports capital of both Flanders and Belgium. Find out the ways in which it is an Active City!


European capital of sport – What are the selection criteria?

In 2013, Antwerp was the first Belgian city to be named European capital of sport by ACES Europe (European Capitals and Cities of Sport Federation).

Its criteria are the respect of the five values of sports: enjoyment, success, sportsmanship, health, and a sense of community[1].

The main development this award issued was the expansion of ‘Sporting A’, the sports department of the municipality.

How can you be a city as active as Antwerp?

Active leisure

  • Develop an extensive sporting offer:
    “Sporting A wants to get Antwerp residents moving, with activities and events, but also with inspiration for a life full of movement. Because exercise is much more than sports, it is also walking with friends or playing with (grand)children. Exercise is healthy, but above all it is also a lot of fun.” To achieve its goal, the department put forward many activities on the city website, from running to aqua Zumba group classes[2] and “tailored-made exercise plans[3] made by a referral personal coach.


  • Create an ‘A card’:
    To access the city sports halls, swimming pools, or classes, people only have to buy an ‘A card’ and recharge it at will. This initiative was successful, as “two out of three Antwerpers practise sport regularly, ranging from running or cycling to swimming and many other activities”[4], according to the Olympic cities’ website.


  • Organise sporting events:
    Antwerp also hosts sporting events of different scales. It is a long-lasting tradition, as it held the 1920 Summer Olympics[5]. A 5-10 kilometres race will take place in May 2024 (with an adapted course for children)[6], but it will also welcome the Belgian Women’s basketball team, that will play their Olympic Games Qualifiers game against world champions United States, Senegal, and Nigeria in the Sportpaleis[7]. To promote the practice of sailing, Antwerp will also offer the opportunity to try out this activity to its residents during the Water Sports Day, on May 5th. But the city is innovative in the events it holds. For instance, the Urban Youth Games will took place in Antwerp for the first time on May 2nd and 3rd: it is organised for fifth and sixth grade pupils, to introduce as many of them as possible to different sports. Overall, it is a very active town sports-wise, whether it be in football, cycling, tennis, handball, rugby, or even roller derby.


  • Establish partnerships:
    The sports department of the municipality has been associated to a virtual club, with its own anthem and clothing line in partnership with a local business, to try and mobilise the population to be more active[8].


  • Know when to rebrand:
    To target people that spend from little to no time practicing physical activities, the city redefined its communication strategy to highlight the emotions linked to sport.

Active schools


In Flanders, sport in schools is overviewed by the Flemish School Sport Organisation (SVS), whose role is to offer extracurricular school-based sports, in its majority free of charge[10]. 92% of the schools are working with SVS, through local collaboration[11] permitted by the municipality. The SVS website presents good practices implemented by schools in Flanders to get their students moving. For example, the Athena campus in Pottelberg secondary school added rowing ergometers to their PE offer during the pandemic, the BuLO Het Veer transformed its playground into different play zones to adapt to its growing number of pupils, and in Loenhout, some parents took it upon themselves to set up a bicycle pooling system to get their children to school.



There are also many local programs and subvention possibilities for schools through the city council[12]. For instance, for the 2021-2025 period, the municipality offers between 10,000 and 25,000€ grants to local projects that pursue social goals such as “reducing (or preventing) obesity and/or motor delay in children, or positively supporting and strengthening the competencies of young people with learning difficulties in their school career.”

Encouraging students to be active: inspiring examples

  • Encourage “Sports after School”: Moreover, the Sporting A program considers the importance of encouraging students to practice a physical activity regularly. To do so, they have put in place a SNS “Sports after School” (Sport Na School) Pass, that allows students to practice sport with their friends right after school hours. The subscription costs 35 euros for four months, a period that matches a school term[13] (or 55 euros for an entire school year) and allows them to get access to many activities.


Active workplace

  • The city of Antwerp promotes physical activity to and at work  through communication spots. It is supportive of what they call ‘fit workplaces’, i.e. companies that have put in place ways for their employees to stay active while working[16].


  • To further the practice of sport among employees, one of the initiatives established by the city was a ‘Company Swimming Card, that offered interesting swimming pool prices especially for firms[17].


  • Another inspiring initiative is Smart ways to Antwerp, that offers customised help to employers to find the best mobility policy for their employees through the possibility of consulting with “mobility consultants”[18].


  • As a whole, the growing development of cycle paths and slow roads, as well as the fact that Antwerp is a ‘human-sized’ city, enables people to walk or bike to work rather than use their car. In 2022, 34.1% of people cycled to work, which is almost as many as those taking their car (35%), according to Smart ways to Antwerp[19].




Active mobility

Antwerp is well-known for being a bike friendly city. It is an activity that has historically been widespread in Flanders, but Antwerp takes the lead in pro-cycling policies. In 2021, as a Physical Activity through Sustainable Transport Approaches case study city, its policy environment for cycling was rated as the most supportive of the study[20]. The quality of infrastructures and travel was also noted multiple times in the Copenhagenize index, that rates cities according to their friendliness towards bicycle users. Indeed, Antwerp has been part of the top-20 cities of Copenhagenize since 2013[21], and is in fourth place in 2024.


Develop alternative modes of transport, such as cycle paths and slow roads

  • Cycle paths: the municipality is developing a plan to asphalt its bicycle paths and more than 30 kilometres of them will thus be resurfaced, to better both the comfort and the safety of its users. In 2023, Antwerp also added more than 4 kilometres of cycle path, and they plan to add even more to the 576 existing kilometres[22]. If you ever visit, you can download the Antwerp cycling map or use the Smart ways to Antwerp’s route planner and select your mode of transportation (including shared mobility) to see the cycle paths, but also every other mode of transport [23].


  • Slow roads: Aside from just cycling, ‘Sporting A’ 2020-2025 Policy Plan includes the development of ‘slow roads’, to promote so-called ‘slow’ modes of transport, such as walking. They are “roads with little or no motorised traffic”[24]. More than 700 kilometres of them are being or have been developed, with the goal of discouraging the use of cars[25]. The city then laid the ‘Routeplan 2030’ regional mobility plan, in a shift toward sustainable transportation that also contributes to more active mobility[26].

An interesting instance of active governance

 Since 2013, Antwerp can be regarded as an interesting instance of active governance. “Sport is the ideal way to strengthen a town’s social fabric. This is a great opportunity to show that Antwerp is not a divided city, as some would have us believe.”[27] according to the city’s burgomaster Bart De Wever, when it was named European capital for Sport. And indeed, with its renewed 2020-2025 Plan[28], Sporting A is a good example of the ways a city can tackle different social issues through sport (e.g. climate change, social exclusion, health).


Discover some recommendations


Most of these are in Flemish, but you can easily translate them with the Google translate tool:



[1] RTBF. (2013). Anvers capitale européenne du Sport en 2013. https://www.rtbf.be/article/anvers-capitale-europeenne-du-sport-en-2013-7901597

[2] Kleir Antwertp website, KLEIR is the brand partnering up with Antwerp on club merch. https://www.kleirantwerp.be/collections/sporting-a

[3] Antwerp city website. Sporting A. Sports activities https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/sportactiviteiten

[4] Antwerp city website. Sporting A. A tailor-made exercise plan thanks to your personal coach. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/bewegen

[5] Olympic cities. Antwerp. https://www.olympiccities.org/antwerp/

[6] Olympic cities. Antwerp. Ibid.

[7] Antwerp city website. Sporting A news. Win your entrance ticket for the 10 Miles. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/nieuws/win-je-toegangsticket-voor-de-10-miles

[8] Antwerp city website. Sporting A news. Come support the Belgian Cats in the Sportpaleis. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/nieuws/kom-supporteren-voor-de-belgian-cats-in-het-sportpaleis

[9] RTBF. (2013). Anvers capitale européenne du Sport en 2013. Ibid.

[10] Flemish Government. (2009). Decreet van 13 februari 2009 houdende de organisatie van schoolsport [Decree of 13 February 2009 on the organisation of school sports]. Belgisch Staatsblad, 26 March. In van Poppel M., Claes E.& Scheerder J. (2018). Sport policy in Flanders (Belgium). International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics. 10:2, 271-285, DOI: 10.1080/19406940.2017.1362570

[11] Sport and Citizenship think tank. (2017). Mapping of School Sport in Europe. https://www.sportetcitoyennete.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Mapping-_ISF_FINAL_compress%C3%A9.pdf

[12] Antwerp city website. Sporting A for schools. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/scholen

[13] Antwerp city website. (January 2024). Sporting A SNS: your ticket for sporty fun after school. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/nieuws/sns-jouw-ticket-voor-sportieve-fun-na-school

[14] Antwerp city website. Sporting A. Reserve sports infrastructure. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/openluchtlocaties

[15] Antwerp city website. Sporting A lending service. https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/uitleendienst

[16] Antwerpen city website. Fitte bedrijven in Antwerpen (video in Flemish). https://www.antwerpen.be/nl/overzicht/sporting-a/ondersteuning-voor/fitte-bedrijven-in-antwerpen-video

[17] Antwerpen. Retributiereglement stedelijke zwembaden.


[18] https://www.slimnaarantwerpen.be/en/employers

[19] Eurocities. Smart ways to Antwerp and to the Eurocities Mobility Forum. https://eurocities.eu/latest/smart-ways-to-antwerp-and-to-the-eurocities-mobility-forum/#:~:text=E-bikes%2C%20cargo%20bikes%2C,unthinkable%20only%20a%20decade%20ago.

[20] Kahlmeier, S., Boig, E. A., Fernandez A, C., Smeds, E., Benvenuti, F., Eriksson, U., Iacorossi, F., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., Int Panis, L., Rojas-Rueda, D., Wegener, S., & de Nazelle, A. (2021). Assessing the Policy Environment for Active Mobility in Cities-Development and Feasibility of the PASTA Cycling and Walking Policy Environment Score. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(3), 986. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18030986

[21] Kahlmeier, S., Boig, E. A., Fernandez A, C., Smeds, E., Benvenuti, F., Eriksson, U., Iacorossi, F., Nieuwenhuijsen, M. J., Int Panis, L., Rojas-Rueda, D., Wegener, S., & de Nazelle, A. Ibid.

[22] Eurocities. Smart ways to Antwerp and to the Eurocities Mobility Forum. https://eurocities.eu/latest/smart-ways-to-antwerp-and-totheeurocitiesmobilityforum/#:~:text=Antwerp%20now%20boasts%20576%20kilometres,in%20park%20and%20ride% 20facilities.

[23] Smart ways to Antwerp. (2024). Antwerp bike city: city invests in safe and comfortable cycle paths. https://www.slimnaarantwerpen.be/en/news/antwerp-bike-city-city-invests-in-safe-and-comfortable-cycle-paths

[24] Smart ways to Antwerp. (2023).  Smart ways to Antwerp… that implies an occasional stroll through the park. https://www.slimnaarantwerpen.be/en/news/smart-ways-to-antwerp-that-implies-an-occasional-stroll-through-the-park

[25] Smart ways to Antwerp. (2023).  Ibid.

[26] Routeplan 2030 in Eurocities. Smart ways to Antwerp and to the Eurocities Mobility Forum. https://eurocities.eu/latest/smart-ways-to-antwerp-and-totheeurocitiesmobilityforum/#:~:text=Antwerp%20now%20boasts%20576%20kilometres,in%20park% 20and%20ride% 20facilities.

[27] Translated words of Bart De Wever. (2013). Interview by RTBF. https://www.rtbf.be/article/anvers-capitale-europeenne-du-sport-en-2013-7901597

[28] 2020-2025 Antwerp city Sports Policy (in Flemish): https://assets.antwerpen.be/srv/assets/api/download/23e7d3ca-a15c-4ada-a4d0-84e07901a779/beknopt Sport beleidsplan_2020-2025.pdf

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