Increased involvement by women in sport means that the gender gap in participation in Ireland is now at its lowest in 11 years.
When the Irish Sports Monitor, a biennial national survey on sporting habits, was first introduced in 2007, the gap in participation rates between men and women (age 15 and over) was 15.7%.
That gap has shrunk to just 4.5%, with 40.8% of women participating in sport compared to 45.3% of men.
Increased participation among females aged 45 and older means that, for the first time, women in that age group are now more likely than their male counterparts to participate in sport.
Teenage boys aged 16-19 are still the group most likely to play sport, but their participation rates have fallen from 84% to 78% in the past two years. Within that group, the decline is most notable in soccer, in which participation rates fell from 30.7% to 22.6%.
Over 1.5m Irish people participate in sport weekly and more in individual activities than team sport, according to the latest survey of 8,482 people, done by Ipsos MRBI for Sport Ireland.
General exercise (12.4%) remains the most common activity, followed by swimming (8.5%), running (6.2%), cycling (5.1%), soccer (4.1%) and dance (2.8%).
Gaelic football (2.0%) is only the eighth most popular activity and hurling/camogie comes 12th (1.1%) after weight-training (1.6%) and Pilates (1.2%).
Swimming, golf, Gaelic football, yoga, and Pilates were the only sports in the top 10 that show increased participation numbers in the past 24 months, while there has been nearly a 5% increase in participation by people aged 65 plus.
Sport Ireland believes that it is no coincidence that female participation rates have increased by two-thirds since they introduced a Women In Sport scheme in 2007, in which they have invested €20m to date.
However, the report showed that people from a lower socio-economic background continue to be less likely to be involved in sport, even activities that are as inexpensive as walking or running.
Minster of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin, said is still something that needs to be addressed in the Government’s 10-year strategy for sport, which will be announced before the Government’s summer recess.
He committed to making a significant change in the Sports Capital grant system, which was mired in controversy recently when a fee-paying school and several golf clubs received building grants of over €100,000, while one inner-city gymnastics club got less than €500 and some boxing clubs in deprived areas had their applications refused completely.
It has been argued that the complicated application system for capital grants favours clubs and sports whose members have more education and expertise in form-filling, especially as even the most minor administrative errors have previously resulted in applications being thrown out.
However, the minister has promised the application system will be much more lenient in future, with applicants being informed if they have made an error in their initial application and given time to correct it before their application is processed.
“On the issue of invalid applications and people not getting through the process I want this to be a thing of the past,” said Griffin. “I am absolutely insisting that there will never again be a situation where a minor infraction invalidates an application.
“This sort of thing causes terrible strife in clubs,” he said. “I’ve heard of AGMs descending into chaos and EGMs being called, where long-serving volunteers resigned from clubs because the Sports Capital application was invalid because of something like one box not being ticked. I want it to be as fair as possible, to give money to communities for whom their project would be impossible without it, and give less to those who don’t depend on exchequer funding as much.”
In 2012 a whopping 48% of applications to the Sports Capital fund were rejected. That was down to 20% last year, but Griffin hopes to eradicate any rejections for administrative errors in future, “to make the system as fair and equitable as possible.”
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