Sport Ireland, the authority responsible for the development of sport in Ireland, has released its latest research on physical activity among children and adults. The research, conducted in 2022 through the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA) and the Irish Sports Monitor (ISM), provides valuable insights into post-pandemic sport participation and physical activity levels in Ireland.
Sport Ireland utilises the findings from these research studies to develop policies and programs aimed at achieving the targets set out in the government’s National Sports Policy.
According to the latest report, overall sports participation among adults has increased by 3 percentage points in 2022, with 43% of the adult population now participating in sports each week. Ireland ranks sixth in the EU in adult weekly sports participation.
Sports volunteering rates remain lower than pre-pandemic levels, with 1 in every 4 sports volunteers not resuming their activities since the pandemic. Volunteerism is the backbone of Irish Sport and Sport Ireland will focus on this area in the coming months.
The gender gap in adult sports participation remains at 5%, which is the same as in 2021 and higher than the pre-pandemic level of 3% recorded in 2019. Significant progress has been made in this area through Sport Ireland’s Women in Sport Policy. When the first ISM report was published in 2007, the gap in sports participation between men and women stood at 16%.
Among children, 15% reported meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity per day, marking a 2% increase since 2018. Primary students reported an average of 85 minutes of physical education per week, almost double the reported minutes in 2010. Children’s sports participation rates have increased since 2018, with 96% of primary and 84% of post-primary students participating in some form of sport at least once a week.
However, there remains a significant drop in girls’ participation in school sports at the post-primary level, worsening since 2018. In 2023, Sport Ireland launched a new campaign, Her Moves, in collaboration with National Governing Bodies and Local Sports Partnerships which aims to encourage inactive teenage girls or those at risk of drop-out to embrace sport and physical activity.
Furthermore, there has been a 5% decline in the number of children actively travelling to school, with 37% walking, cycling or using a scooter in comparison to 42% in 2018.
Perhaps surprisingly, the perceived impact of COVID-19 restrictions on post-primary students was more positive than negative on overall physical activity (51% positive vs 26% negative), fitness levels (50% positive vs 22% negative) and overall health (53% positive vs 18% negative).
Minister for Sport and Physical Education, Thomas Byrne TD, expressed his support for the publication of the research, saying: ‘I welcome the publication of the latest research from Sport Ireland. These comprehensive reports offer valuable information on the current levels of participation in sports and physical activity among all age groups in Ireland. I am heartened to see that adult participation rates have increased and that activity levels are starting to return to pre-pandemic levels. These reports help us to track our progress towards the goals set out in the National Sports Policy and make interventions in key areas to help us achieve the targets set out by the government. I am particularly conscious of the dropout rate of teenage girls in sport and I am determined to see this area addressed by working with all interested stakeholders in the interests of eliminating the gender gradient in sport by our target of 2027.’
The Minister for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Hildegarde Naughton TD, welcomed the research and its findings: ‘In spite of the incredible challenges we have faced since 2018 as a country, the positive trends in relation to the participation rates of children and adults are really encouraging. Nonetheless, the research highlights areas where we need to redouble our efforts, in particular around keeping post-primary girls involved in sport. These are challenges we will need to address with strong joined-up policies.’
Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, Dr Úna May: ‘Sport Ireland’s commitment to research underpins our decisions at every step. These vital reports have tracked the nation’s physical activity and participation in sport for many years. The 2022 ISM and CSPPA reports are important as they give us valuable insights into Ireland’s activity levels as we emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. We continue to work with our National Governing Bodies, Local Sports Partnerships, and other partners to address key areas and remove barriers to engagement in sport for the whole population of Ireland.’
Director of Research and Innovation at Sport Ireland, Benny Cullen added: ‘I would like to thank our research partners in the University of Limerick, Dublin City University, University of Ulster and University College Cork and our research colleagues in IPSOS. The publication of these two substantial reports presents us with an ideal chance to initiate a wider dialogue on how we can promote sport and physical activity throughout all stages of life and in all parts of society.’
Professor Catherine Woods, Chair of Physical Activity for Health at the University of Limerick and lead on the CSPPA study commented that: ‘Following the CSPPA 2018 results I urged for action to ensure this was ‘as low as we go’, calling for realistic targets and achievable actions as only then would real progress be made. I am genuinely thrilled to see the CSPPA 2022 showing an improvement in participation levels, and while we have a long way to go, I hope this trend will continue into the future’.
The Irish Sports Monitor (ISM), one of the world’s longest-running national surveys, collects data on sport participation and physical activity by conducting annual telephone interviews with over 8,500 Irish individuals above the age of 16.
The Children’s Sports Participation and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA) is commissioned by Sport Ireland, Sport Northern Ireland, and Healthy Ireland. It is delivered through four research centres at the University of Limerick, University College Cork, DCU and the University of Ulster. The third iteration of the CSPPA study, which surveyed over 8,500 young people aged 10-19 years old, offers significant insights into the state of children’s sports and physical activity on the Island of Ireland.