Increase in sports activity among adults and children is welcome trend

Nation is getting more active, but we must continue to work hard to get more teenage girls active

Ireland now ranks sixth in the EU when it comes to adults’ weekly sports participation rates. Sports participation among adults has increased an encouraging 3 per cent in 2022, with 43 per cent of the population now taking part in sport every week.

These are undoubtedly positive statistics, but a huge amount of work still needs to be done by Sport Ireland. We need to continue to build momentum with our national governing bodies, local sports partnerships, and other partners to address key areas and remove barriers to engagement in sport for the whole population of Ireland.

Sport Ireland is the authority responsible for the development of sport in Ireland. We have just released the most comprehensive studies on sports participation and physical activity among children and adults in Ireland. The research, conducted in 2022 through the Irish Sports Monitor and the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study provides valuable insight and objective evidence on post-pandemic sport participation and physical activity levels in Ireland.

Both studies are critical pieces of research and it is clear from the data that the Covid-19 pandemic brought about considerable disruption to how people exercised and took part in sporting activity.


Sport Ireland utilises the findings from these research studies to develop policies and programmes aimed at achieving the targets set out in the Government’s National Sports Policy. These programmes are critical to encourage participation and positively change behaviour.

The increase in sports activity among the general adult population is a welcome trend, but sports volunteering rates remain lower than pre-pandemic levels, with one in every four volunteers not resuming their activities since the pandemic.

We need to understand this better and ensure that people volunteer to help coach teams, act as support for community events and take part in vital administrative roles in clubs up and down the country. Volunteerism is the backbone of Irish sport and Sport Ireland will focus on this area in the coming months. Put simply, without volunteers, there is no sport.

Among children, there are generally positive but mixed results.

Children’s sports participation rates have increased since 2018, with 96 per cent of primary students participating in some form of sport at least once a week. Primary students also reported an average of 85 minutes of physical education per week, almost double the reported minutes in 2010.

This week will see children all over the country return to school. However, we have seen a 5 per cent decline in the number of children actively travelling to or from school, with 37 per cent walking, cycling or using a scooter in comparison to 42 per cent in 2018.

Overall, among primary and post-primary children, 15 per cent reported meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines of one hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity per day and although still low it marks a welcome two per cent increase since 2018.

With respect to post-primary students, perhaps surprisingly, the perceived impact of Covid-19 restrictions on these students was more positive than negative on overall physical activity (51 per cent positive vs 26 per cent negative), fitness levels (50 per cent positive vs 22 per cent negative) and overall health (53 per cent positive vs 18 per cent negative). Some 84 per cent of post-primary students participated in some form of sport at least once a week, up from 76 per cent in 2018.

Massive progress has been made in the promotion of women’s sport and encouraging young girls to participate in sport.

We have witnessed some brilliant performances by Irish women on the international stage and more locally, and we continue to produce amazing roles models like Rashidat Adeleke, Katie Taylor, Katie McCabe, Rachael Blackmore and Leona Maguire amongst many, many more. Now, more than ever, we have superstars that young girls can look up to and aspire to.

Although girls’ participation in sport at primary and post-primary level has increased, there remains a significant drop in girls’ participation in sports at the post-primary This year Sport Ireland started a new campaign, Her Moves (, in collaboration with national governing bodies and local sports partnerships which aims to encourage inactive teenage girls or those at risk of drop-out to embrace sport and physical activity. This has been a good start and we need to do more.

When it comes to adults, the gender gap in adult sports participation remains at 5 per cent which is the same as in 2021 and higher than the pre-pandemic level of 3 per cent recorded in 2019.

Significant progress has been made in this area through Sport Ireland’s women in sport policy. When the first ISM report was published in 2007, the gap in sports participation between men and women stood at 16 per cent.

These vital reports and data help us to track our progress towards the goals set out in the national sports policy and make interventions in key areas to help us achieve the targets set out by the Government. Minister for Sport and Physical Education Thomas Byrne and his colleagues are very much aligned with us and particularly invested in this and determined to address the gender gap and the drop-out rates among teenage girls.

We are 100 per cent committed to this research – it underpins our decisions at every turn and gives us valuable insights into Ireland’s activity levels as we emerged from the pandemic.

The overall participation and activity trends are positive and the nation is getting more active, but we must continue to work hard to get more teenage girls active, remove any perceived barriers to physical activity and increase rates of volunteerism.

Dr Una May is chief executive of Sport Ireland