The Irish Sports Monitor for 2019, published by Sport Ireland this week, shows that participation rates have grown by 3 per cent, from 43 per cent to 46 per cent since the publication of the 2017 edition, which equates to an additional 150,000 people.
This means that almost 1.7 million people in Ireland considered themselves to be active in some form of sport or physical activity, and this was before health became the dominant factor in people’s lives this year.
Personal exercise remains the most popular activity for Irish adults at 16 per cent, followed by swimming on nine per cent, running on seven per cent and cycling on 4 per cent.
The Irish Sports Monitor has measured adult participation in sport and physical activity since 2007. In that year the number who participated in sport or activity (excluding recreational walking) was only 33 per cent so the advance in just over a decade has been impressive.
It will need to maintain that momentum with the target set for 2027 as part of the National Sports Policy being 60 per cent.
The latest report, produced in conjunction with Ipsos MRBI, presents findings based on interviews with over 8,500 adults aged 16 and over conducted between January and December 2019.
Minister for Media, Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sport and the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin TD, welcomed the positive upward trend.
“The Programme for Government and the National Sports Policy set ambitious targets for increasing the number of adults regularly playing sport; the 3 per cent increase in participation rates announced today is a solid start to that journey.”
“The Government has committed to prioritising increasing female participation in sport as participants, coaches, referees and administrators.”
“The decline in the gender gap in active participation to the lowest it has ever been at 3.4% is very welcome. This is testament to the increased number of opportunities being provided by our National Governing Bodies, Local Sports Partnerships and sports clubs around the country.”
“The low number of sedentary people is encouraging, while the decrease in the disability gradient gap is also a positive development.”
The report finds that those who participate in sport and other forms of activity – both physically and socially – exhibit higher levels of positive mental health. Aside from the increase in active participation, improvements were also reported in the numbers attending events, taking up club membership or involved in volunteering – up to 47 per cent from 45 per cent.
“As we have seen over recent weeks and months, the community spirit and social capital generated by sport has played a valuable role in helping Ireland through the Covid-19 pandemic,” added Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers TD.
“It is heartening to see such strong numbers actively and socially engaged, benefitting from the physical, mental and social dimensions of sport and physical activity. Volunteers are the lifeblood of sport in Ireland and it is encouraging to see such strong numbers dedicating their valuable time.”
The report found that there was significant reduction in the number of inactive adults i.e. those not regularly taking part in sport or recreational walking, from 22 per cent to 20 per cent. The target in this category by 2027 is 15 per cent.
“It is very encouraging to see an increase in the number of people participating in sport and also in social participation through volunteering, club membership and attendance at sporting events,” said Sport Ireland Chairman Kieran Mulvey.
“While the figures announced today are positive, there is always more that can be done to make sure everyone, no matter their age or background, has the opportunity to participate in sport in some capacity. The Board of Sport Ireland will continue to prioritise our efforts to increase participation right across all groups in our society. The insights gained from the Irish Sport Monitor are key to informing future actions in this regard.”
While the reports highlights many positives, a persistent social gradient in the proportion that is highly active exists in terms of socio-economic status, with those from lower socio-economic groups being both less likely to be highly active and more likely to be sedentary.
Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy, said: “The findings announced published today are encouraging overall and results are moving in the right direction. In particular, it’s welcome to see sustained participation rates in the younger age groups in the 16-34 bracket, with over 90 per cent of people participating in sport citing improving health and fitness as a motivating factor.”
“Personal exercise remains the main driver or participation at 16 per cent, which was reinforced by our recent reports on participation during Covid-19 restrictions that showed unprecedented numbers taking part individual activity. The challenge now is to provide opportunities to sustain and further grow this level of activity. The work of the National Governing Bodies of Sport and Local Sports Partnerships is vital in achieving this.
Next week on Sport for Business we will highlight one particular area of this important research and look in detail at the numbers.