29 Jan 2015

Swimming numbers sinking fast despite Olympic ambitions

Despite being the country’s most popular sport, swimming in England has seen participation numbers plummet, with almost a quarter of a million fewer people heading for the pool in the last year.

Above: Ellie Simmonds was only 13 when she won two gold medals in the 100m and 400m freestyle swimming events

British Swimming’s disappointing performance at the Olympics resulted in a £4m budget decrease and the closure of an intensive training centre at Swansea.

Now despite being the country’s most popular sport – with 2.6 million people still taking part weekly – a survey by Sport England has found that 245,000 fewer people went swimming weekly in the period between October 2013 and October 2014.

Swimming’s figures wiped out the increase experienced in other sports, including athletics as well as football, rugby union, netball and cricket. The survey measures the number of people playing a sport across England, for at least 30 minutes once a week.

Too old-fashioned?

Jennie Price, Sport England’s Chief Executive, said: “I am disappointed with these figures, and I’m very concerned about the drop in swimming, which dominates the overall picture.

“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.”

The figures from Sport England’s Active People Survey (below), showed that during the period October 2013 to October 2014, 15.57 million people aged 16 years or over (35.8 per cent) played sport for at least 30 minutes of sport at moderate intensity at least once a week.

This represents an increase of 1.63 million compared with 2005/06, but a decrease of 125,100 compared with the October 2013 result.

Minister for Sport, Helen Grant, said: “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.

“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.”

Clive Efford, Labour’s shadow minister for sport, said: “The government were handed a golden sporting legacy which they have completely failed to capitalise on.”

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

In addition a number of other sports also saw increases in the numbers of people taking part, including athletics, canoeing, mountaineering, taekwondo and fencing.

However, the figures show that there are 121,700 fewer disabled people playing sport regularly, with 1.58 million now taking part.

Jennie Price of Sport England said: “This decrease is equally concerning, especially given last year’s record level in the number of disabled people playing sport.

“I am determined to address this, which is why we’re now working with a much wider range of organisation from the disability sector to ensure that sport is a practical and attractive option for disabled people.”