Across the country, 15.3 million people are playing sport at least once a week, with encouraging progress being made in sports participation among young people and a positive impact being made on women’s sports.
The figures released by Sport England - covering the period to mid-April - show that 1.4 million more men and women are playing sport every week than in 2005, back when London won the bid to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. For the main part, most of the increases seen following the boost from the London 2012 Olympics has been retained and the popularity of the Games is being used as a platform to encourage more active lifestyles to all age groups.
When the figures were last published in December 2012 they showed 750,000 more people playing sport than the previous year. Six months on, despite the coldest March for 50 years, a growth of 530,000 has been maintained.
The figures are encouraging after being bombarded with statistics of rising obesity and morbidity rates across the UK. With more and more people taking an interest in sport and getting their recommended daily amount of exercise, levels of heart disease, obesity and diabetes can be lessened.
Sports such as football, golf and even cycling, one of the strongest performing sports of recent years, have all been affected. “Our membership continues to feel the benefit of our successes in London 2012 and the “Wiggo effect” with year-on-year growth for May hitting 54 per cent, and the number of events growing strongly. We were expecting a dip in the harshest couple of months, but our own data shows rapid recovery in April and May,” said British Cycling Chief Executive Ian Drake.
In a really positive move the number of young people aged between 16 and 25 playing sport regularly has reached 3.86 million, thanks to a bigger focus on school sports, and children being inspired by recent sporting events and personalities including Jessica Ennis, Lewis Smith, and Victoria Pendleton. This is an increase of nearly 63,000 on the previous 12 months, with strong advances in sports such as basketball and swimming.
And sport for women has seen a real boost with games including boxing and netball helping to drive a year on year increase of 89,900, helping to further narrow the gender gap in sport.
A huge gap between the number of disabled people and non-disabled people playing sport remains however, although the figures for disabled people have been rising steadily since 2005. The latest figures show an increase of 46,600 over the past year with Paralympic sports like equestrianism and athletics growing in popularity.
Chair of Sport England’s Nick Bitel, said: “These figures show we’re holding onto the growth achieved over the past 18 months, despite some poor recent weather. There’s a long way to go but it’s particularly encouraging to see the numbers for young people are now moving in the right direction.”
And the Minister for Sport and Tourism, Hugh Robertson, is really buoyed by the latest figures and hopes that the rises increase for young people, women and disabled people in sport. He added: “We remain absolutely committed to delivering a lasting sports participation legacy from London 2012. The long term trend shows we are on track, with 1.4 million more people playing sport regularly since we won the bid in 2005. I am encouraged to see good underlying trends in the number of young people, women and disabled people playing sport regularly and confident we have the right strategy in place to continue to deliver long term increases in the number of people playing sport.”
Even the BBC is continuing with the sporting theme, launching a new Blue Peter sport badge, encouraging children to take part in sports, and a new Olympic series called Inspire: The Olympic Journey. The new badge aims to inspire children to live out the London 2012 legacy and marks the programmes’ badge’s 50th anniversary.
The monthly series is planned to begin on July 27 - exactly one year on from the London 2012 opening ceremony. It will celebrate the biggest names, the rising stars and the unsung heroes of Olympic sport and will be presented by Gabby Logan. Accompanied by Get Inspired, a BBC-wide initiative to promote participation and help individuals get more involved in grass-root sporting activities, the series is hoped to encourage people to get off their sofas and take up and engage with sports and being active. Ewan Vinnicombe, editor of Blue Peter, said he was delighted that they were launching a new sport badge on the 50th anniversary year, adding that it was a “brilliant legacy after an amazing year of sport in the UK."
With all the sporting initiatives taking place and the level of interest in sport on the increase, now we just have to hope that it continues well into 2014 and the future.
by Jessica Ward
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