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More people in sport, says survey

By Matt Slater

A young girl playing basketball
Increasing participation in sport is a key legacy promise for London 2012

There are half a million more adults playing sport in England than there were in 2006, research has revealed.

This rise was uncovered by the Active People survey for Sport England, the agency that funds grass-roots sport.

The number of over-16s playing sport at least three times a week is now 6.8 million, 16.5% of the adult population.

"It's fantastic that over half a million more people are now taking part in sport since we won the Olympic bid," said Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe.

"This shows the record amount of public money invested in community sport in the last decade is delivering results. This is no time to rest on our laurels, though. I want to see another million people regularly playing sport by 2012."

Sutcliffe's wish is Sport England's formal target and a key aspect in the government's ambitions for a positive, country-wide legacy to the London Olympics.

It is with this in mind that Sport England will announce on Tuesday its four-year spending plans: 480m of lottery money for 46 sports to boost participation, cut drop-off rates and improve talent development.

The results show we are heading in the right direction but also highlight some of the challenges we face - such as tackling the gender gap - in the run-up to London 2012

Jennie Price
Sport England chief executive
After a lengthy consultation process, the national governing bodies of these sports, which range from athletics to angling, submitted their applications in October.

All will receive something but fast-growing sports like cycling and badminton, are tipped to do particularly well. Paralympic sports such as boccia, wheelchair basketball and rugby are also expected to be allocated significant sums.

The latest numbers on participation will come as a welcome relief to Sport England. The agency has endured a testing period which has seen it change strategic direction at least twice and lose a number of high-profile appointees.

The most prominent of these came last year when Derek Mapp quit as chairman. The successful businessman, who now runs Britain's Olympic boxing programme, resigned when the government imposed a new strategy on him.

Mapp, who still has not been replaced, had been pursuing a previous policy of increasing less formally-defined physical activity in an attempt to improve fitness and health across the country.

This was perceived to be too broad an approach and Sport England was directed to refocus its efforts on organised sport, a move that was welcomed by the national governing bodies.

In responding to the survey, which was based on interviews with 191,000 people, the governing bodies' umbrella organisation, the Central Council of Physical Recreation (CCPR), was quick to herald Sport England's new direction.

The most widely played sports are swimming (3.2m), football (2.1m), cycling (1.8m), athletics (1.6m) and golf (0.9m)
Athletics (260,100), cycling (132,000), football (122,900), golf (59,300) and rugby union (44,700) saw the largest increases in participation between 2005/6 and 2007/8
The five fastest growing sports were rounders (57%), gymnastics (51.6%), volleyball (47.6%), sailing (40.4%) and rowing (39.6%)
Two sports recorded significant falls - swimming (-29,500) and angling (-14,100) - while four others - boxing (-8,700), winter sports (-6,700), squash (-5,900) and baseball/softball (-2,600) - saw falls not large enough to be considered significant
Based on Ipsos MORI's Active People Survey 2 for Sport England
"Governing bodies, supported by Sport England, are succeeding in creating quality opportunities for people across the country," said CCPR boss Brigid Simmonds.

"With the right support, that opportunity was always there and the new focus at Sport England has helped governing bodies deliver."

Mapp's "health and fitness" aspirations are now the Department of Health's responsibility and come under the 2012 legacy goal of getting "two million people more active" by 2012. Free swimming for young and old, which was announced earlier this year, is the only measure to be announced so far.

Sport England, in contrast, appears to be more advanced in its plans although significant hurdles remain. While participation rates were up in almost every region - with Yorkshire leading the way - there was no increase in London or the West Midlands.

There is also a wide disparity between the sexes, with 4.04 million men playing regular sport compared to only 2.81 million women. The percentage increase, however, was marginally better for women than men, so the gap is shrinking slowly.

Sport England's chief executive Jennie Price welcomed the numbers, saying they represented the starting point for the "one million more doing more" pledge.

"The results show we are heading in the right direction but also highlight some of the challenges we face - such as tackling the gender gap - as we build momentum for community sport in the run-up to London 2012," said Price.

Among the other findings in the Active People survey were the fact that 10 million adults are members of a club where they play sport and six million have taken part in competitive sport in the last 12 months.

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see also
Sports call for stronger legacy
29 Oct 08 |  Olympics
Free swimming to be 2012 legacy
06 Jun 08 |  UK News
Sport England chairman quits job
29 Nov 07 |  Sport Homepage
Sport England announces huge cuts
15 Jul 03 |  Other sport...

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