Sports participation up by 245,000 according to latest Active People Survey

Sport England's latest Active People Survey reveals the number of people playing sport regularly has increased

More women are getting active, but there's more to be done for disabled people and those on lower incomes.

Less than a year into the This Girl Can behaviour change campaign, the number of women playing sport and getting active once a week, every week, has increased by 148,700.

Bucking the normal trend, the number of women playing sport and being active is increasing faster than the number of men. The gender gap has begun to narrow slightly – from 1.78 million to 1.73 million – a sign that the campaign’s approach of focussing on the consumer is beginning to have a positive impact.

The results support the need to think about target audiences as individual consumers, understanding the things that get in the way of their taking part in sport and their motivations.

The increase in the number of women playing sport has driven an overall increase in the number of people regularly playing sport. This stands at 15.74 million in the 12 months to the end of September, up by 245,000 compared to the previous figures published in June.

Overall, it is an increase of 1.65 million since we won the right to host the London 2012 Games and brings levels back to where they were this time last year (15.71 million).

The requirement for a change in approach and focus on the needs of individual consumers is seen starkly in the figures for lower socio-economic groups and disabled people, where the numbers are low and remain static:

  • Lower socio economic groups – 25.9 per cent of people in the lowest socio economic groups (known as NSSEC 5-8) play sport once a week, a very small increase on the 25.7 per cent in June 2015. This compares to more affluent socio economic groups where 39.1 per cent of people are now active.
  • Disabled people – 17,500 more disabled people are playing sport once a week, now at 1.58 million (17.2 per cent), meaning that a disabled person is still half as likely to play sport as a non-disabled person.

Commenting on the survey findings, Jennie Price, Sport England’s chief executive, said:“It’s good news that more women are playing sport, and driving an overall increase in the numbers. It’s particularly great to see This Girl Can is making a real difference. That’s because we’ve really focused on what drives women’s attitudes and behaviours.

If we’re to see a further step change in the total number of people playing sport, we need to take a similar, consumer-focused approach in areas where the figures are stubbornly low, like disability and lower socio-economic groups.”

Sport by sport statistics

The latest figures show a positive picture for sports and activities which are good at using customer insight to decide what activities they should offer and can respond quickly to market trends.

For example, keep fit and gym (up 257,600) continues to thrive, with over 6.8 million people (the highest number since 2006) going to classes and doing gym sessions once a week. Low cost gyms are opening up the market and going to the gym is particularly popular with women.

In boxing (up 29,700 to 166,400), there has been real growth in the number of men taking part, as well as people from lower socio economic groups. Boxing fitness classes continue to grow in popularity.

Swimming continues to decline (down 39,300 to 2.51 million), although the rate of decline has slowed compared to previous years. While this is to be welcomed, the sector has much more to do to reverse its fortunes.

The number of people playing sport is tracked continuously through Active People – the largest survey of sport and active recreation ever carried out in Europe.

First published at 10 December 2015