Sport Ireland today published the 2021 Irish Sport Monitor Interim Report Q3, which covers the months July-September this year and shows that participation in sport continued to rise throughout the year with numbers approaching pre-pandemic levels.
In the third quarter of the year 43% of Irish people over the age of 16 years old took part in sport, which is up from 41% in the second quarter of 2021 and 35% in the first quarter. This now means that participation in sport is approaching the 46% recorded in 2019.The Irish Sports Monitor studies the levels of sport and physical activity in Ireland as well as the impact of Covid-19 on those levels.
There has been a drop in the percentage of people walking for recreation from 76% in Q2 2021 to 72% in Q3, though recreational walking remains ahead of the 66% level seen in 2019. Physical activity levels are still above pre-pandemic levels, with 41% of the population meeting the national physical activity guidelines through sport and recreational walking alone, up from 34% in 2019.
Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers TD commented: “I am delighted to see the numbers involved in sport continuing to grow and it is encouraging to see that physical activity levels continue to be significantly higher than they were two years ago. This is positive news, though we won’t become complacent and it remains a major priority for me in the coming weeks and months to get more people of all ages involved in sport and physical activity.”
Other highlights see a rise in active travel, with 50% of people walking and 13% cycling for transport, which are above the 40% and 10% levels respectively recorded in 2019.
As restrictions were lifted earlier this year volunteering and event attendance bounced back dramatically, 9% and 15% respectively, just slightly behind 2019 levels of 12% and 19%. This increase seems to be largely driven by 35-44 year old age group who have almost returned to pre-pandemic levels of volunteering.
Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy commented: “While the results of this report are encouraging, and seeing the increased numbers of people volunteering is a particular positive, there are certain areas that warrant further attention in the coming months. This research shows that gradients are growing in terms of participation in a number of areas – it is vital that we reduce these gradients and ensure that sport and physical activity are for all.”
There are growing gradients in sport participation for women, people with disabilities and older people. Male sports participation has grown faster than female participation resulting in a widening gender gap. 48% of men report taking part in sport while 38% of women reported taking part in sport, though there is no difference in genders in overall physical activity levels, due to higher levels of women walking for recreation. Sports participation for those without a disability (49%) has almost returned to 2019 levels (50%), creating a widening gap to those with a disability (27%, down from 33% in 2019).
Although sports participation for older people has increased in Q3, it has not kept pace with the return to sport of younger people who are now almost at pre-pandemic levels, creating a growing age gradient.