The Impact of Covid-19 on Participation in Sport and Physical Activity in Ireland. What is Sport Ireland’s Data Telling Us?
Other authors: Benny Cullen, David Callaghan, Vydehi Muppavarapu
Aim: In the last week of February 2020, just as the first Covid-19 cases were being reported, Sport Ireland commissioned Ipsos MRBI to undertake a survey of respondents aged 15+ with the aim of providing insights into sports participation and recreational walking trends in Ireland through the pandemic. The questions used on this survey were identical to the ones used in the Irish Sports Monitor (ISM) allowing for comparison with 2019 data.
Methods: The survey was undertaken over 7 waves between February and July 2020 through random digit dialling. Wave 1 pre-dated most of the limitations on movement. The second wave happened mostly under the “Delay” phase. Waves 3 to 5 took place mostly during the “Stay at Home” lockdown phase. Waves 6 and 7 were aligned with the first two phases of the country reopening. Approximately 1,000 respondents took part in each wave.
Results: As the Covid-19 pandemic in Ireland progressed, physical inactivity consistently declined. At the peak of restrictions in Ireland, approximately 400,000 people, 11% of the population, who were previously inactive, started walking or taking part in sport. The percentage of people walking for recreation at least once a week increased from 66% in 2019 to 85% in late May.
Early in the pandemic, we saw a decrease in sports participation driven by the closure of clubs, swimming pools and gyms. This decrease seemed to initially convert, and contribute, to increases in recreational walking activity. As the phases progressed, sporting activity began growing again, returning to pre-Covid levels.
As the country has started to open up, recreational walking continues to show a strong performance. Those whom we describe as “Inactive” (i.e. doing neither sport nor recreational walking) declined from 19% at the start of the pandemic to 8% in early June, but figures have since slowly risen again to 14%.
Conclusion: Despite the bounce back of inactivity rates, it is encouraging that inactivity levels have declined by 5% over 6 months. Two key areas for consideration emerge- sustaining the positive trends seen particularly with individual sporting activities and recovering losses incurred in facility and team based sport.