Saturday 22 September 2018

We might love sport, but we need to show it by getting off the sofa

'Despite their low barriers to entry, mass participative and non-competitive forms of exercise such as walking, swimming, running and cycling have cumulatively suffered a degree of attrition over 2016 levels.' Stock photo: Getty
'Despite their low barriers to entry, mass participative and non-competitive forms of exercise such as walking, swimming, running and cycling have cumulatively suffered a degree of attrition over 2016 levels.' Stock photo: Getty

Rob Pearson

As a nation, our passion for sport is legendary and our appetite to consume it through our teams and athletes shows no sign of slowing. In 2017, our sports stars made headlines competing in all four corners of the globe.

Logic would suggest that we have been inspired by the successes of our elite athletes to exercise and play more sport and, as a nation, are fitter and healthier than ever before. However, this does not appear to be the case; the latest research reveals a more mixed bag in our sport and exercise participation habits.

The Teneo Sports' Sponsorship Index is a comprehensive 1,000-person nationally representative survey with quotas imposed across gender, region, age and social class. The research was carried out by Teneo Sports and Ignite Research and examines the Irish general public's attitudes towards sport, their sporting heroes, levels of participation and the impact of sport on the Irish psyche. This is the eighth year of the research.

Known as the big three, Gaelic games, rugby and soccer are the nation's marquee sports and dominate the sporting landscape throughout their ever-lengthening seasons. Underage participation in these sports through schools, summer camps and clubs remains high but their contribution to the exercise and participation habits of the adult population is less significant. The research indicates a slight drop in team sport participation levels over the last 12 months, with 18 per cent of those aged 18 and over claiming to have played competitive or recreational team sports in 2017.

Men are twice as likely to play organised and competitive sports as women are and participation levels drop significantly for those aged over 34 years who opt for "keep fit" forms of exercise. Despite their low barriers to entry, mass participative and non-competitive forms of exercise such as walking, swimming, running and cycling have cumulatively suffered a degree of attrition over 2016 levels.

However, they remain the nation's preferred forms of exercise with 37 per cent of all Irish people using walking as a regular form of exercise followed by swimming (19 per cent), running (10 per cent) and cycling (nine per cent).

Is this trend the canary in the mine for future health of our nation? The World Health Organisation recommends that all adults aged 18 to 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week to reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and depression.

The research does reveal some green shoots. A trend to move from organised and competitive sports to more general keep-fit activities is emerging.

In tandem with our bullish economy, gym memberships, personal instruction and fitness classes (boot camp, yoga, spinning etc) have experienced an increase over 2016 levels. Attracted by flexible hours, a diverse range of classes and increasing affordability, over 1.1 million Irish adults took part in these forms of exercise in 2017.

Despite a migration from traditional sporting activities into gym membership and fitness classes, Teneo PSG's research reveals a four-point increase in those who claimed to take no form of exercise at all over the last 12 months. According to the Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative, one in five Irish children is obese and we are currently on track to become the most obese nation in Europe.

The same research revealed that disadvantaged (DEIS) schools, experience higher levels of obesity than more affluent schools.

The latest CSO report, The Well Being of the Nation, suggests this trend is continuing into adult life with 62 per cent of the population now classified as overweight.

Social class is the biggest factor in sports and fitness participation bar none. Those classified C2DE experience a sedentary level that is 40 per cent higher than their ABC1 counterparts.

We are motivated to exercise by a variety of factors, although 84 per cent of us identified the desire to be healthy as the main reason. Wearable fitness trackers are now being worn by 13 per cent of the population which indicated that we are aware of the benefits of an active and healthy lifestyle.

Men are more motivated to exercise by positive social interaction and camaraderie than women, who, in turn, are more motivated by the desire to look good (26 per cent v 21 per cent).

The younger you are the more image-conscious you are, so almost half of all 18- to 24-year-olds who exercise do so to look good compared to 14 per cent of those over 55 years old.

Our love of sport is evident in the fact that 11 of the top 20, and four of the top five, most-watched programmes on RTÉ in 2017 were sporting events. Why then are we not converting this appetite for sport into participation?

Rob Pearson is Associate Director at leading sponsorship consultancy Teneo Sports

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