How we work, rest and play


The Ipsos MRBI Changing Ireland study shows that our relationship with sport is changing as our society and lifestyles modernise. In 1987, as part of our 25th anniversary commemoration, we asked people about their leisure time and relationships with sport. These have been updated in the 2012 Changing Ireland study.

Our lives have become more hectic since 1987. Despite the effects of the financial crisis, we enjoy higher labour-force participation levels. And even when we clock off, technology has blurred the lines between work and leisure. The Changing Ireland survey shows we crave more leisure time now than we did in 1987. In an era when time is so precious you would expect that sports participation would have decreased, yet that is not the case.

Both the 1987 and 2012 studies asked a nationally representative sample of Irish adults about sports participation in the last year including swimming, jogging, athletics, snooker, golf, hurling/camogie, rugby, soccer, Gaelic football and tennis.

Individualised sport and exercise have become more popular as people choose their own time to exercise, potentially shoe-horning it into their busy schedules.

The number of joggers has doubled. The only other sport which has come close to enjoying a similar surge is swimming, which is now the most participated-in activity across the population as a whole.

From The National Sports Council Sports Monitor 2011 Report we know that in recent years, people have increasingly taken up other individual pursuits such as walking and cycling. And it is also safe to assume that more people are going to the gym now than in 1987.

Team sports, however, have not enjoyed a boom. The years between the two studies have seen massive changes around the broadcasting of team sports, particularly rugby and soccer, but the effect on participation has been modest.

Rugby is a case in point. In 1987 it was a niche sport and registered only 2 per cent participation in our study. The years since the turn of the millennium have been a golden age for Irish rugby; Ireland has won one Grand Slam and four Triple Crowns, while the provinces have won the Heineken Cup five times. Yet this has not translated into an increase in adults on the playing fields.

GAA has not fared much better; in fact, the number of people playing hurling or Gaelic football has declined marginally. Soccer has experienced some small growth, but when you consider that the country had never qualified for an international tournament at the time of the 1987 study but has appeared in five since, you would expect to see a higher uplift. Team sports demand commitment but changes can be made to encourage participation. Rugby has introduced an adapted version of the sport, tag rugby, while soccer can be played anywhere that you can find two jumpers and a football. Lower levels of participation among women and older people also demonstrate how important it is that sport is accessible to all. Rugby and soccer have lowered the barriers to entry, and now even cater for mixed-gender teams.

A person’s mental wellbeing is often linked to their physical condition and/or level of exercise. While this study was not designed to provide a robust analysis of the impact of exercise on mental health, the study did find that those who had not participated in sport in the past year were less likely to be very happy with their life in general than those who had participated.

Mark Walsh is an associate director at Ipsos MRBI

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