The appointment of Univ.-Prof. mult. Dr. Walter Tokarski on the newly created chair of leisure and popular sport at the German Sport University Cologne (GSU) in 1990 followed in 1992 the founding of the Institute of Leisure Science. The establishment of this first institute for leisure science in Germany was accompanied by a strengthening of leisure research at the GSU which is reflected in the execution of numerous projects carried out since then.
With the establishment of the "European Sports Studies" working area, the Institute of Leisure Science has opened up another comprehensive teaching and research area at an early stage. The objective of this work is to monitor European sport development and promote it through European studies, to make specific sports structures transparent in the countries of the European Union and to support European cooperation in the field of sport. Since the institute's research and teaching centered on the European perspective on the fields of leisure and sports politics, the institute was renamed "Institute for European Sports Development and Leisure Research" in 2005.
The growing importance of political science analysis in the field of sport has been confirmed by the new denomination "sport policy" in the reinstatement of the chair in 2011 by Univ.-Prof. Dr. Jürgen Mittag. In the same year, the European activities of the institute have been honoured by the award of a Jean Monnet chair.