Nation's most popular sport sees sharp decline

29 January 2015

Swimming is the nation’s most popular sport, but our latest official statistics reveal a worrying drop in the number of people taking part in the sport regularly.

Our annual Active People Survey measures the number of people playing sport across England – for at least 30 minutes once a week. The latest results show that 245,000 fewer people are swimming weekly in the period between October 2013 and October 2014.

Swimming is England’s most popular sport by a huge margin – with 2.6 million people taking part weekly.

Overall, results show that 125,100 fewer people did some kind of sport once a week for 30 minutes between October 2013 and October 2014.

Jennie Price, Sport England’s Chief Executive, said: “I am disappointed with these figures, and I’m very concerned about the drop in swimming, which dominates the overall picture.

“If swimming’s figures had been flat, we’d be looking at an overall increase in participation. I am encouraged by the fact that the current leadership at the ASA, and the wider swimming industry, now recognise there’s an issue and want to work together to fix it. It needs to get on with it.

"Swimming has lagged behind running and the gym in terms of offering an attractive, modern experience to people who want to play sport and exercise. That has to change and to change quickly.” 

Gender gap shows need for This Girl Can campaign

Our results confirm what we already know about the gender gap between the number of men and women playing sport regularly. Overall, 1.75 million fewer women than men are active, despite over 70 per cent of 14-40 year-old women wanting to be more active.

This reinforces the need for our recently-launched This Girl Can campaign, aimed at giving women more confidence to exercise.

More than 12 million people have watched the campaign’s film online and hundreds of thousands of women have reacted positively on social media and online.

Team sports on the up

Reversing earlier trends, team sports also saw an increase in numbers playing in the last 12 months – with football, cricket, netball and rugby union all recording growth.

In addition to more people playing team sports, a number of other sports also saw increases in the numbers of people taking part. They include: athletics, canoeing, mountaineering, taekwondo and fencing.

Today’s data also revealed that the number of young people playing sport regularly has increased.

Disability sport suffers drop

The figures also show that there are 121,700 fewer disabled people playing sport regularly, with 1.58 million now taking part. 

“This decrease is equally concerning, especially given last year’s record level in the number of disabled people playing sport. I am determined to address this, which is why we’re now working with a much wider range of organisation from the disability sector to ensure that sport is a practical and attractive option for disabled people.”

Click here for more details on the latest Active People Survey results.