Walking is nation's favourite


SURVEY SPORTING SENTIMENT INDEX:THE OLDEST activity of them all is the nation’s favourite to take part in. Yes, walking is officially the nation’s favourite “sporting” pastime according to the 2011 Pembroke Communications Sports Sentiment Index, an in-depth analysis of Irish sporting preferences and pastimes.

Almost 40 per cent of us claim to be active walkers, with the numbers jumping to 49.6 per cent for females and one in four for males. Whether one counts walking as a “sport” is another matter, but it is a physical pastime all the same.

Swimming is also immensely popular, with 22.3 per cent of Irish people over the age of 18 swimming and again, women (27.7 per cent) tend to swim more than men (16.5 per cent).

However, men love their bicycles and over 15 per cent of men participate in cycling compared to 12.3 per cent of women. These non contact sports of swimming, cycling and walking are growing in popularity as the nation seemingly becomes more aware of its collective health.

With respect to cycling, a boom has occurred in this industry with 90,000 bikes purchased through the Bikes for Work scheme since 2009. Cycling Ireland’s participation numbers have jumped from 5,000 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2011 and, to add to this, there were no fewer than 538 official Cycling Ireland events in 2011 – up 50 per cent from 2009.

The growth of participation sports such as half marathons and triathlons has been noticeable with over 20,000 people taking part in various triathlons throughout 2011. A total of 11.6 per cent of respondents stated they participate in running and so there are no surprises that 60,000 took part in marathons, half marathons and mini marathons outside of the big three runs; the Flora Mini Marathon (40,000), National Lottery Dublin City Marathon (14,000) and Bord Gáis Energy Cork City Marathon (10,000) in 2011. These so called “weekend warriors” are very much here to stay.

However, almost one in three adults do not participate in any sport of any kind, be it relatively stress free walking to kite surfing. Slightly more women (35 per cent) than men (30.2 per cent) do not partake in any form of sport.

This number rises to 41.7 per cent for those over 50. The survey also revealed 40-49 age group are the most active of all with over 75 per cent of this category taking part in some sport or other.

One in 10 Irish people over 18 play golf, with 16.5 per cent of men claiming to play. The strong tradition of golf on these shores coupled with the phenomenal recent success of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and indeed Pádraig Harrington on the highest world stage has only reinforced the popularity of golf. The quality of courses and the easier access to playing for those from every socio economic background can only contribute to even more people taking up the game. Golf is most popular in the 40-49 age group (19.8 per cent) and the over 50s (11.3 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, in the younger 18-29 age group, team sports with greater physical contact tend to be strongest. Gaelic Games is very strong with 17 per cent of this 18-29 age group regularly playing in clubs throughout the country. While a similar number (19.7 per cent) in this age group also play soccer thanks largely, one can only assume, to the many club leagues and the recent five-a-side and seven-a-side phenomenon which allows for greater participation for all standards.

Rugby, despite being enormously popular with over 50 per cent of people saying they are interested in the sport, has significantly smaller participation numbers with only 6.8 per cent playing the game in the 18-29 age group.

Is it true to say that men like sport more than women do?

The old stereotype has surely been smashed?

Well, not entirely,although it depends how one looks at it.

When gauging the level of interest in sport, we found that 47.9 per cent of men “love sport and would follow sports news on a daily basis” while only 11.9 per cent of women said the same. Perhaps men fall in love quicker?

Only 3.7 per cent of men claim to have no interest in sport whatsoever as opposed to 9.2 per cent of women having no interest.

Interestingly, those over 50 expressed the most love for sport.

These findings may point to a lack of interest amongst females, but when one looks a little deeper this isn’t the case at all.

In fact, 37.3 per cent of Irish women claim to be “somewhat interested” with a further 22.3 per cent more than happy to tune in for big matches or sporting occasions. Thus, over two thirds of Irish women are genuinely interested in sport.

The emergence of some superb female sporting talent and achievements over the last two decades and the growth of female participation in sport must surely be a factor. So too is the enormous popularity of big GAA and rugby match days where there are nearly as many women as men in attendance.

This year’s Pembroke Communications Sports Sentiment Index has thrown up many further interesting findings. Like for instance, the fact more women than men selected Gaelic Games as their “favourite” sport and the same applies to rugby.

The opposite is true of soccer where far less women (18.2 per cent) chose soccer as their favourite sport compared to the 30.9 per cent overall figure for both men and women.

Further analysis is required to ascertain why this is the case, but one explanation for this may lie in the perception that Gaelic Games and rugby matches tend to have a friendlier, open and more carnival match-day atmosphere than soccer matches.

Above all else, what this fresh research proves is that we are an active nation of sports lovers and 2011 provided lots to be proud about.

Michael O’Keeffe is managing director of Pembroke Communications. This research was conducted by research agency AskChili, on behalf of Pembroke’s sports and sponsorship division, amongst a nationally representative sample of 502 respondents with quotas imposed on gender, age, region and social class. Fieldwork was conducted online between December 12th and 15th, 2011.