2021 Irish Sports Monitor Mid-Year Report shows a gradual return to sports participation

14 Oct 2021
Caroline O'Mahony

Sport Ireland today published the 2021 Irish Sports Monitor Mid-Year Report which shows the number of people taking part in sport in recent months has risen while there has been a slow return to social participation in sport.

This is the fifth Irish Sports Monitor produced which studies the impact of Covid-19 on sport and physical activity. The interim report from Ipsos MRBI presents the results from the first 6 months of the year, January 2021- June 2021.  The number of people taking part in sport has risen in recent months from 35% in Q1 2021 to 41% in Q2 2021, largely driven by increases in the numbers cycling, swimming, playing golf and playing popular team sports. However, sports participation rates are still behind 2019 levels of 46%.

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD, stated; “While It is heartening to see the percentage of people meeting the national physical activity guidelines through sport and recreational physical activity grow to 42% in Q2 2021, up from 34% in Q1 2019, there is still some way to go to reach the target of 60%. Close attention must also be paid to the disparity in physical activity levels based on age and socio-economic factors”.

Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers TD commented: “I am delighted to see that walking continues to be popular and particularly so among the younger age groups. Encouragingly, the report shows that 17% of people took up a new sport or physical activity during the pandemic. Two in five people gave up activity due to Covid, but almost 90% say they intend to return. A major priority for me in the coming weeks and months is getting people of all ages and abilities back to sport. We will be running a major new initiative this winter to help more people get back playing and participating in the sports and activities they love post the pandemic.”

There has been a slow return to social participation in sport which was measured by club membership, attendance at events and volunteering. Club membership fell to a low of 30% in Q1 and Q2 2021, down from 35% in 2019.  On a positive note 86% of club members maintained their memberships through the pandemic and 89% of current club members intend to renew their membership. 

Volunteering fell dramatically during the pandemic to a low of 2% in Q1 2021, however it started to rise again to 5% in Q2 2021.  81% who volunteered before the pandemic intend to return to volunteering once restrictions have lifted.

Event attendance was at 0% in Q1 2021 due to restrictions showing high levels of compliance with Government restrictions.  Event attendance grew to 4% in Q2 2021, still down significantly from 20% in the first half of 2019.  54% of people indicated that they intend to attend a sports once restrictions allow.

Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy commented: “While the results of this mid-year report are encouraging on the whole, there are some key areas that warrant further attention in the coming months. As a sector that relies heavily on volunteers we must ensure that the return to sport encourages and supports the safe return of volunteers. It is also imperative that we take action to reduce the gender gradient in participation. This reduced dramatically during the pandemic but today’s results show that it is starting to re-emerge”.

Director of Participation and Ethics, Sport Ireland, Dr. Una May added: “The socio-economic gradient in sport participation is a key metric in the ISM and unfortunately we are starting to see the social class gradient re-emerge. While sports participation in higher socio-economic group has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels, there has been only a slight increase in lower socio -economic groups. This widening gap needs to be addressed through initiatives and programmes in the coming months to ensure that everyone has access to sport and physical activity opportunities”.