Sports participation declines in 2021 while walking remains high

Sport Ireland report shows positive signs that organised sport will regain high levels

A jogger is seen near the Great South Wall in Dublin during Level 5 Covid-19 lockdown in February. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A jogger is seen near the Great South Wall in Dublin during Level 5 Covid-19 lockdown in February. Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

Increased levels of walking, running, cycling and home-based exercise seen during April and May of last year have tapered off in the first quarter of 2021, according to a new Sport Ireland report conducted by Ipsos MRBI.

Overall levels of physical activity have increased on 2019 figures with 76 per cent of adults saying that they walk for recreation - up from 65 per cent in 2019. However, that figure is down from the all-time high of 80 per cent seen during last year’s first Covid-19 lockdown.

There has also been a decrease in participation in running, cycling and home-based exercise. In quarter one of this year, sports participation dropped to 35 per cent - the lowest levels seen since 2007. This is largely due to the strict Covid-19 rules in place during the first quarter of 2021 which led to 44% of respondents saying that they have given up one or more sports or physical activities due to Covid-19.

The upward trend in recreational walking continues in this quarter’s report with three in four adults walking for recreation on a regular basis. There is also hope for indoor sports and organised sport as 89 per cent of people who have given up one or more sports or activities during the pandemic say they intend to return once restrictions allow.

The release of the report, which collated responses from 2,129 adults in the Republic of Ireland, coincides with the publication of Sport Ireland’s Participation Plan 2021-2024 - Increasing Participation in Changing Ireland. This is a plan set out to remove barriers to participation in sport and physical activities over the next three years with the aim of increasing levels of exercise in the Irish population and getting to a stage by 2027 where 60 per cent of all Irish adults participate in sport.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media believes the decrease in the number of people engaging in organised sport is a concern but she is hopeful that, as restrictions continue to ease, the fall-off will begin to turn.

“It is heartening to see the number of people walking is significantly ahead of 2019 figures and has remained so throughout the restrictions. The reduction in sports participation is a concern but I am confident that this will improve as we see the gradual reopening of facilities over the coming months. This optimism is reflected in the 89 per cent of respondents who say they will return to the activity they gave up as a result of Covid-19,” she said.

Recent research from Glasgow Caledonian University found that physical activity reduces the risk of illness with Covid-19 and increases the efficacy of vaccination. Research published in the British Journal of Medical Science found that of a sample of 48,440 people in America who were diagnosed with Covid-19, those who were physically active on a regular basis had lower odds of being hospitalised, requiring ICU admission or dying from Covid-19.

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