We need to talk about men taking part in sport, and how important it is to the health of the nation

Employers and employees must ensure they create enough time for a balanced lifestyle with sufficient opportunities for getting at least 2½ hours physical activity a week

Playing sport brings a host of physical, mental and social benefits. Photograph: Getty

We rarely talk about men taking part in sport. I don’t mean the men turning out for their counties in Croke Park or pulling on a green jersey for Ireland – we talk plenty about them, and not enough about their female counterparts. I’m talking about the men you see in your daily life: your sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers and friends.

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Men’s participation rate in sports is higher than that of women but it began to dwindle about a decade ago.

In 2011, Sport Ireland’s Irish Sports Monitor (ISM) survey found that 51 per cent of men participated in sport every week. However, by 2017, that figure had dropped to 45 per cent and, after a brief period of increase in 2019, it dropped further during the pandemic to an all-time low of 43 per cent in 2021. Furthermore, this decrease was concentrated in younger men, those aged 18-34.

In contrast, women’s sports participation rates, although lower than men’s, have been on the rise. That is one of Ireland’s success stories.


In 2023, however, the ISM, Ireland’s longest running and most comprehensive study on sport and physical activity, showed a strong post-pandemic recovery in sports participation rates among both women and men. Male sports participation rose by four percentage points, recovering a lot of the losses seen over the last decade and rising to 49 per cent.

Male sports participation is rising again. Although it is not back to the highs of a decade ago, it is a huge improvement on the lows seen during and even before the pandemic.

In recent years, male participation rates increased significantly in team and individual sports, such as soccer and swimming, which both increased from 4 per cent in 2021 to 7 per cent in 2023. Increases were also seen in Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, running, tennis and golf.

Men’s Health Week (June 10th-16th) is a good time to reflect on just how important increasing sports participation and physical activity is to the health of the nation. Sport is good for the body, the mind, the soul and the community. It can bring people together to socialise, be active, de-stress, sometimes to compete and always to have a good time.

Benny Cullen. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Fitting sport around work commitments is the most frequent barrier to sports participation reported by men across the ISM series. In a society that seems to be on an accelerating treadmill of productivity, employers and employees must ensure they create enough time for a balanced lifestyle with sufficient opportunities for taking part in sport and being physically active.

The national physical activity guidelines recommend at least 2½ hours of physical activity a week to experience the physical and mental health benefits of being active. And it’s a win-win situation, as individuals who meet the physical activity guidelines are more productive at work and report less health-related absences.

The second most common barrier to sports participation reported by men is injury, and sport has a role to play here, especially with young men.

Sporting bodies and clubs must ensure safe environments for participants, promoting health, fitness, personal development, and socialisation while minimising injury risks. If injuries occur, it is crucial to prioritise a safe return to sport.

For Men’s Health Week, Sport Ireland is encouraging all the men of Ireland, young and old, of all abilities and backgrounds to get out there and be active. There really is a sport out there for everyone, no matter how big, small, fast, slow you are, injured or not. Whether it’s kicking a ball, getting out in the hills, swinging a racket, running, cycling, swimming or just going for a stroll, there are thousands of sports clubs all over Ireland run by welcoming communities of people.

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Get Ireland Active will guide you and help you to take control of your own activity journey. It features countless trails, clubs, facilities and public places across the country. You can also check out Men on the Move, a free, 12-week community-based beginners physical activity programme for inactive adult men run by Local Sports Partnerships.

Don’t become a statistic, make the time to be active and enjoy the amazing experiences sport has to offer.

  • Benny Cullen is Director of Research and Innovation, Sport Ireland