The number of people engaged in regular physical activity in England fell 1.4 per cent between October 2014 to March 2015, with swimming and fitness being the major casualties.
The latest figures from Sport England’s Active People Survey show the number of people doing “some kind of sport once a week, every week” fell to 15.5 million – 222,000 fewer than six months ago.
Despite being the most popular participation sport in England – with more than 2.5 million adults taking part in 30 minutes of moderate intensity swimming at least once a week – swimming was once again the standout casualty.
The figures showed 144,200 fewer people taking to the pool in the last six months and 390,700 in the last year.
The long term trend is also concerning, with 729,000 people stopping swimming in the last decade.
“These are really disappointing results. This is especially the case for swimming, where a serious, long-term decline needs to be reversed,” said Sport England CEO Jennie Price.
“Whilst we’ve seen the number of people playing sport increase by 1.4 million since we won the right to host the London 2012 Games, these results highlight that our current investment model has delivered all the growth available in the traditional markets for sport.”
Adam Paker, chief executive of the Amateur Swimming Association, said: “The figures released today reinforce the importance of engaging with swimmers and continuing to work closely with our industry partners to create pool experiences that encourage people to return to the water.”
“Later this year we will start implementing our participation plan, based on significant research that puts the swimmer at the centre. This is being developed in partnership with Sport England and our industry partners and will seek to ensure that across the sector we are providing the right programmes at the right times for everyone to take part in and enjoy.”
The other significant drop was seen in what Sport England defines as the ‘keepfit and gym sector’, which saw a drop of 153,000 – the first dip in numbers since the organisation began counting in 2005.
Sport England said changing tastes in the ‘traditionally buoyant’ gym sector were to blame, with the number of people doing aerobic style classes declining, while high-intensity Pilates and yoga continue to grow in popularity.
Sports Minister Tracey Crouch pledged to take action in light of the poor figures, with plans to deliver a new strategy for sport “as a matter of urgency”.
“It’s not the return we expect to see for a large investment of public money.” said Crouch.
“A significant amount of public funding has been invested in sport in the last decade, but the results simply aren’t good enough.”
There were some causes for cheer, however, with running, tennis and basketball all recording notable increases in participation over the six-month period.
Source: Sport England