Active People Survey – swimming plunges to new depths while team sports prosper
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Active People Survey – swimming plunges to new depths while team sports prosper

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A huge decline in the number of people swimming once a week has been blamed for an overall fall in sports participation in England.

Swimming, the country’s most popular sport with more than 2.6 million people hitting a pool each week, saw a drop of 245,000 swimmers in the last 12 months – an alarming 8 per cent drop.

As a result, the number of people doing sport at least once a week in England fell by 125,000 between October 2013 and October 2014 – bringing the overall number down from 15.7 million to 15.6 million.

The figures come from the latest Active People Survey (APS), released by Sport England today (29 January).

Despite swimming’s poor performance, there is much to be positive about the figures in the APS.

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

As well as more people playing team sports, a number of other sports saw increases in the numbers of people taking part – such as athletics, football, canoeing, mountaineering, taekwondo and fencing.

Perhaps most importantly, today’s data also revealed that the number of young people playing sport regularly has increased.

Nearly 58 per cent of 14-25 year-olds (a total of 4.72 million) played sport once a week between October 2013 and October 2014, an increase of 55,900 in the last 12 months.

Jennie Price, Sport England CEO, didn’t hide her frustration with swimming's poor performance affecting the overall picture of activity in England.

“I’m very concerned about the drop in swimming, which dominates the overall picture,” she said. “If swimming’s figures had been flat, we’d be looking at an overall increase in participation.

"The current leadership at the Amateur Swimming Association – 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.”

Minister for Sport, Helen Grant, added that despite the fall in the latest figures, there has been an upward trend in sports participation over the past decade.

"There are 1.6 million more people playing sport regularly now than when we won the right to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2005,” she said.

“I’m encouraged that the number of 16-25 year olds participating is on the rise - proof that our youth sport strategy is working.

"But I am very concerned by the overall dip in participation over the last 12 months. Sports governing bodies have long argued that they can bring new people to their sport and funding should go via them but some are simply not delivering and it's not good enough.”

• To view the full results of the APS, click here

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A huge decline in the number of people swimming once a week has been blamed for an overall fall in sports participation figures in England.
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The number of young people playing sport regularly has increased in the past 12 months
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