It appears we Aussie might not be the sport-loving nation we once thought, well, certainly when it comes to the actual participation.
A new study by Roy Morgan Research has found that just 20 per cent of us play a team sport, down from 27 per cent in 2001. However, a lot more us have taken up individual pursuits such as walking, yoga or going to the gym.
In good news for soccer (aka football), participation in that has soared 46 per cent over the past 15 years, while rowing (albeit off a much smaller base) soared a whopping 62 per cent.
However, that’s been offset by big falls in Aussies playing billiards (down 69 per cent), squash (down 67 per cent), and ten pin bowling (down 62 per cent). Only a third of the following competitive sports have gained regular participants since 2001 (and only five beat the national population growth of 26 percent over the period).
Interestingly, traditional sports like tennis, netball and Aussie Rules all fare badly. Tennis lost almost a quarter of a million regular players since 2001 (down 35 per cent), more than any other competitive sport. Almost 100,000 fewer Australians now play netball regularly (down 24 per cent), and 41,000 fewer play cricket (down 10 per cent). Australian Rules football has held on to over 250,000 players (down just one per cent)—enough to overtake lawn bowls (down 25 per cent to 233,0000).
Men versus women participants
While it’s true that Australia has an ageing population, the decline in competitive sports participation is apparent across all age groups—and both sexes. Participation rates among men and women in most different age groups have shrunk by well over 20 per cent.
In 2001, 34 per cent of men and 20 per cent of women (aged 14-plus) played one or more competitive sports regularly; by 2016 it was just 26 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.
Young men aged 14 to 24 remain the most likely to play competitive sports, however the participation rate has fallen well below half: down from 57 per cent in 2001 to 42 per cent in 2016.
The sharpest proportional declines have been among women aged 35 to 49 and 50-plus. These groups were already the least likely to play any competitive sport 15 years ago (both 16 per cent), and now just nine per cent and 10 per cent do, respectively.
Compared with other segments, the decrease in regular competitive sports participation has been smallest among men aged 35 to 49 (from 27 to 25 per cent) and women aged 14 to 24 (from 38 to 33 per cent). For the men, the overall rate has been bolstered by increased participation in the less strenuous competitions of golf, darts, pool and bowling. Among young women, the lower popularity of cricket, tennis, field hockey and gymnastics has been offset, in part, by increased participation in soccer, volleyball and, yes, Australian Rules football.