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Study: Participation in sports

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The Daily

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Barely 3 out of every 10 Canadians aged 15 and over participated regularly in one or more sports in 2005, a dramatic decline from the early 1990s when the proportion was closer to one-half, according to a new report.

The report, based on data from the General Social Survey (GSS), estimated that 7.3 million individuals, about 28% of the adult population, participated in some form of sport. This was down substantially from 8.3 million, or 34% of adults, in 1998, and 9.6 million, or 45%, in 1992.

The decline was widespread, cutting across all age groups, education levels, income brackets, both sexes and almost all provinces. Teenagers aged 15 to 18 had the highest participation rate, but that, too, declined from 77% in 1992 to 59% in 2005.

In addition, many more of us were spectators. In 2005, an estimated 9.2 million adults were "involved" in amateur sports as spectators, a 20.3% increase from 1998.

The report cautioned that the downward trend in sport participation does not necessarily mean that Canadians do not engage in physical activities. Many exercise regularly through various physical programs or classes, while others enjoy jogging, gardening or other such activities.

While active participation declined, indirect involvement in sports on a voluntary basis actually increased, the study found. In 2005, the number of amateur coaches reached 1.8 million or 7% of the population. This was up from 1.7 million in 1998, and more than twice the 840,000 in 1992.

In 2005, the tables turned and female coaches outnumbered their male counterparts by a slight margin. An estimated 882,000 women were coaching in 2005, up 15% from 1998 and more than four times the total in 1992. During the 13-year period, the number of male coaches fell 9% to 874,000.

In addition, women have gained considerable ground as referees, officials or umpires in amateur sports. In 1992, men outnumbered women five to one. By 2005, the ratio was down to only two to one.

Golf replaced ice hockey as the most popular sport in Canada in 1998. Almost 1.5 million adult Canadians were golfers in 2005, three-quarters of them men. Ice hockey drew 1.3 million. Other sports in order of popularity — swimming, soccer, basketball and baseball and volleyball — all drew between 500,000 and 800,000 participants.

Why participation has dropped: An aging population, time crunch

The report found that one of the many factors in declining participation in sports is Canada's aging population. Other factors include time pressures, family responsibilities, child rearing, careers, lack of interest and participation in other leisure time activities such as watching television, surfing and chatting on the Internet.

As Canadians get older, their rate of participation in sport decreases. In 1992, people aged 35 and over represented 60% of the adult population; about 36% of them participated in sports. By 2005, two-thirds (67%) of Canadians were in this age group, and their participation rate was down to 22%. Thus, society is aging and becoming less active.

Only 17% of Canadians aged 55 and over participated in sports, well below the proportion of 25% in 1992.

The report found various other social and economic factors behind the decline in participation. But for many, it was the time crunch.

Note to readers

This release is based on a report that examines participation in sports by adult Canadians.

Data came from the 2005 General Social Survey (GSS) on time use covering 19,600 respondents aged 15 and over. In addition to how they spent their time, half of the respondents in all 10 provinces were asked whether they or other family members had regularly participated in any sport during the 12 months prior to the survey.

Similar questions were also asked in 1992 and 1998. These three data bases were the primary data source for this study.

Regularly is defined as at least once a week during the season or for a certain period of the year. Respondents were also asked whether they or any other household member had participated in amateur sport as a coach, sports official/referee/umpire, administrator or helper.

Sport is defined as mainly team or organized activity such as hockey, baseball, basketball, golf, competitive swimming, soccer, downhill skiing, volleyball and tennis.

A number of popular recreational physical activities were not defined as sport by the survey. It excluded activities such as non-competitive aerobics, aquafit, bicycling for recreation/transportation only, body building/body sculpting, car racing, dancing, fishing, fitness classes, hiking, jogging, lifting weights (non-competitive), motorcycling, snowmobiling, and non-competitive walking.

Overall, 30% of all non-active Canadians reported lack of time as the major factor. This proportion jumped to 45% of those aged 25 to 34, a group that was probably busy raising young families and pursuing careers.

Among older non-active Canadians aged 55 and over, 28% indicated that age was the biggest factor. Almost a quarter of them reported health conditions as the most important reason, while another quarter of this group cited lack of interest in sport.

According to the 2005 GSS, Canadians spent an average of only 30 minutes a day on active sport. The rest of the day was spent working (paid and unpaid work), participating in civic and voluntary activities, sleeping, having meals, socializing, reading, surfing the Internet, watching television, going to the movies and participating in other entertainment activities.

Participation rates highest in Nova Scotia and Alberta

Reflecting the national trend, participation in sport declined between 1998 and 2005 in all provinces except Prince Edward Island. The biggest declines occurred in Quebec and British Columbia.

In 1998, Quebec led the nation in sport participation with a rate of 38%. By 2005, only 27% of the adult population was participating. In British Columbia, the rate fell from nearly 36% to 26%.

Participation rates in 2005 were above the national rate (28%) in six provinces: Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

One-third (32%) of Nova Scotia's population participated in some form of sports, the highest rate among the provinces. Rates in both Nova Scotia and Manitoba remained virtually unchanged between 1998 and 2005.

The real success story was Prince Edward Island. It had the lowest rate in 1998 but by 2005, it ranked fourth overall at almost 29%, just behind Nova Scotia, Alberta and Manitoba. Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest participation rate, about 24%.

Who participates: Women closing the gap with men

Men participate in sport much more actively than women. While there remains a huge gender gap in participation between the sexes, the spread has narrowed over the last seven years.

In 1998, the gap was 17 percentage points as 43% of men and 26% of women participated. By 2005, it had narrowed to 15 points, with just 36% of men and 21% of women participating.

The higher the level of education and household income, the more likely a person is to participate actively in sport. In 2005, one-quarter of Canadians aged 15 and over with a high school diploma or less participated in sport. This compares with 30% for those with a postsecondary diploma and 33% for those with a university degree.

Sport participation increases as household income grows. In 2005, families with household incomes of $80,000 and over were twice as likely to participate in sport as those with household incomes of less than $30,000.

The most active group was still students. However, their active involvement in sport has slowed from a participation rate of 64% in 1998 to 51% in 2005. The rate was highest for male students at 59%, but that was down from 76% in 1998.

Canadian children aged 5 to 14 prefer soccer

GSS data showed that soccer has become the sport of choice for Canadian children aged 5 to 14. The game was played by about 44% of both boys and girls in this age group. Soccer was followed by ice hockey, swimming and baseball.

Overall, 55% of boys were actively involved in sport, compared with only 44% of girls. However, the rate for girls remained stable from 1998, while the rate for boys dropped from 59%.

Household income was also a major determinant of sport participation for children. In 2005, only 43% of children from households with incomes of less than $40,000 were active in sport, as opposed to 65% of those from households with incomes of over $80,000.

More active Canadian adults participate in tournaments

The proportion of active Canadians participating in tournaments and competitions continued to grow. About 39% of adults did so in 2005, up from 36% in 1998.

More active males participated in competitive sports than active females. However, the gap between them narrowed from a 12-percentage-point spread in 1998 to 10 points in 2005.

In 1998, 29% of active females participated in competitive sports. By 2005, the proportion had reached 33%.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4503.

The research paper, "Sport participation in Canada, 2005," as part of the Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics: Research Papers series (81-595-MIE2008060, free), is now available from the Publications module of our website.

For general information, contact Client Services (toll-free 1-800-307-3382; 613-951-5418; fax: 613-951-1333; To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Fidelis Ifedi (613-951-1569) or Erika Dugas (613-951-1568), Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics.

Tables. Table(s).