Sport Ireland, Media Release – 11th May 2021
Impact of Covid-19 Restrictions on Sport and Recreational Walking detailed in new Sport Ireland report
Sport Ireland today published the findings of the Irish Sports Monitor (ISM) 2021 Quarter 1 report, which shows that overall levels of physical activity have increased on 2019 figures despite a decrease in organised sport participation.
The research, conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of Sport Ireland, examined the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on Sport and Recreational Walking in the period January – March 2021, comparing the results to the same period in 2019 and equivalent studies undertaken during the Covid-19 restrictions.
The number of adults walking for recreation is up from 65% in 2019 (the most recent Irish Sports Monitor report) to 76% in Q1 2021. This figure however is down from the all-time high of 80% during April to May last year. Running and cycling have experienced similar fluxes, with today’s report showing an increase on the same period in 2019 but a decrease in participation levels during Covid-19 restrictions.
The release of the research findings coincides with the publication of Sport Ireland’s Participation Plan 2021-2024 – Increasing Participation in Changing Ireland. The Participation Plan outlines how Sport Ireland will continue to help people get active by removing barriers to participation in sport and physical activity in the coming years. The Sport Ireland Participation Plan actions will be delivered through Local Sports Partnerships, National Governing Bodies, strategic partners, clubs, communities and individuals.
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD, stated: “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% of respondents who say they will return to the activity they gave up as a result of Covid-19.
“The long term plan to increase participation is addressed in the comprehensive Participation Plan. The Programme for Government set new and ambitious objectives for sport, most notably an increase in the participation goals from 50% of adults regularly playing sport to 60% by 2027. The launch of the Plan today is a huge step towards achieving those targets. As we start to see the gradual return to sport with outdoor facilities re-opening and children returning to training, we must all continue to make sport and physical activity a part of our daily lives”.
Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers TD commented: “Throughout the pandemic we have acknowledged the important role that sport and physical activity plays in all our lives, benefitting our physical health and mental wellbeing. Today’s research highlights the resilience of the people of Ireland and their commitment and flexibility to maintaining active lifestyles, even in the face of a global pandemic. On a positive note, as during the first period of restrictions, the gender gap in participation has been eliminated with equal proportions of men and women participating in sport. I am happy to see the release today of the ambitious plan to increase participation in the long term and also to address the huge impact that Covid-19 has had on sport participation over the past year. The comprehensive actions outlined in the plan are underpinned by the commitment of Government to double the annual investment in sports participation by 2027 as set out in the National Sports Policy. This investment will provide security to LSPs and NGBs to drive the increase in participation. The vision of creating a country where everyone can regularly enjoy taking part in sport and physical activity for life is one that is shared not only by Sport Ireland and the Department but also the many stakeholders and organisations who will support the delivery of the Plan over the coming five years”.
Equivalent research undertaken by Ipsos MRBI during Covid-19 restrictions found that rather than giving up on sport and physical activity, the people of Ireland adapted their behaviours and took up new sports and activities. Last year, declines in indoor sports, team sports and organised sport due to imposed restrictions were offset by unprecedented increases in outdoor activities such as running, cycling and recreational walking as well as home based personal exercise and weight training.
However, today’s report, covering the period January to March 2021 shows the gains made in running, cycling and home based exercise last year have receded. Sports participation decreased to 35% – the lowest level since 2007. This contrasts to one of the highest levels of sports participation recorded of 47% in the same time period of 2019. The decrease was seen across all age groups and in both genders. 44% of respondents reported having 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% of people who have given up one or more sports/activities during the pandemic say they intend to return once restrictions allow.
The Sport Ireland Participation Plan is built on, and guided by, the National Sports Policy 2018-2027 (NSP) and the Sport Ireland Strategy 2018-2022. The Participation Plan takes into consideration Healthy Ireland – A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013–2025 and the National Physical Activity Plan as well as global and national developments.
Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy commented, “While the quarter 1 Irish Sports Monitor results show a decline in sport participation levels during Covid-19 restrictions, it is encouraging to see that the level of recreational walking has remained high. The last year has been very difficult for everyone and for the sports sector as whole. Sport Ireland and the sport sector is committed to helping everyone in Ireland get active and experience the incredible health benefits sport has to offer. The Participation Plan 2021-2024, published today, will help address any negative impact on participation as a result of Covid-19 as well as build on the strong foundations put in place through the hard work of everyone in the sector. Support from all departments across Government will be required if we are to create an environment and culture that lends itself to sport and physical activity. Cooperation among all stakeholders will be key to achieving the ambition to make participation a way of life that is enjoyed equally by everyone in society. I look forward to working together with all involved to make an impactful change in the years to come”.
The announcement today coincides with the publication of two important international pieces of research which highlight the significant health benefits associated with being physically active during the pandemic. 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. These publications recommend promoting the importance of physical activity during the pandemic and suggest combining vaccination campaigns with safe physical activity programmes to boost vaccine effectiveness.
Director of Participation and Ethics, Sport Ireland, Dr. Una May added: “Overall the findings of today’s ISM are positive. However, they do show the difficulty in increasing participation levels during restrictions. We are happy to see the return of some sports this month and work is underway by NGBs and LSPs to encourage people to return safely to sport and physical activity in the weeks and months ahead. The decrease in participation across lower socio-economic groups is an area of concern and one that will be addressed by the Participation Plan. The plan aims to work with those most at risk of having lower sports participation and physical activity levels. By working closely with our stakeholders and partners, we will support innovative, inclusive and collaborative programmes, which will address the challenges posed by demographic, social and economic changes in the years to come”.
About the Irish Sports Monitor Quarter 1 Report: