THE economic downturn could be turning Ireland into a nation of couch potatoes.
A report by the Irish Sports Council shows the level of active participation in sports among adults fell by almost 2% last year.
Just three out of 10 adults now regularly take part in an active sports, according to ISC’s annual Irish Sports Monitor report published yesterday.
It found active participation levels fell to 30.8% last year from 32.9% in 2007.
The 2% drop equates to one in 16 participants no longer taking part in sporting activities on a regular basis in the space of 12 months.
The report blames the fall-off in active lifestyles on the effects of the economic downturn with many people less willing to spend money to take part in their favourite sporting activity.
There was also a reduction in attendances at sporting events – down to 15% – a decrease of almost 2% on the previous year.
“I have no doubt the recession was behind this drop in sporting activity,” said the report’s author, Economic and Social Research Institute economist, Peter Lunn.
He noted the decrease in sports participation was concentrated among people from lower income households.
The biggest declines were observed in individual sports like golf and using the gym – activities which traditionally tend to be expensive.
However, the report said the fall-off in sports participation was offset to some extent by increases in the number of people walking and cycling to work.
There were also some signs the worst effects of the recession on sporting activity might be over as there was a slight pick-up in participation levels towards the end of 2008 among unemployed and self-employed people.
The ISC said such a trend would suggest these groups were using extra free time to play sport. On a county basis, the report highlighted how people living in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Waterford and Louth had the highest sports participation levels, while those in Westmeath, Offaly and Dublin city had the lowest.
ISC chief executive John Treacy said the Sports Monitor project, now in its second year, was building up a significant body of research about activity levels in Ireland.
Over 6,800 adults were surveyed on their sport and exercise activities in compiling the report.
The former Olympic medallist said the fall-off in participation levels during 2008 was a matter of concern as there were both physical and social benefits in regularly engaging in sports.
At least one in every seven members of a gym gave up their membership in 2008.
On a more positive note, membership of sports clubs and volunteering maintained their existing levels with one in three Irish people a member of a sports club.
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