In Brief

Swimming and gyms in decline as sport participation falls

Minister promises new strategy as number of people playing sport falls 222,000 in six months

The number of people who take part in sport at least once a week has fallen by almost a quarter of a million over the last six months, according to new figures from Sport England, prompting sports minister Tracey Crouch to promise a new strategy for sport "as a matter of urgency".

Between October and March 15.5 million people did some kind of sport every week, 222,000 fewer than six months ago. The biggest decline has been in swimming, although it remains the nation's most popular sport.

More than 2.5 million people still swim every week, but numbers are down 144,200 in the last six months and 390,700 in the last year.

The other significant drop was in the keep fit and gym sector, where numbers were down 153,000.

Sport England chief executive Jennie Price admitted: "These are really disappointing results", and Crouch concurred. The minister, who only took up her role last month, said: "A significant amount of public funding has been invested in sport in the last decade but the results simply aren't good enough... The recent downward trend in participation has demonstrated that the current approach has had its day. It's not the return we expect to see for a large investment of public money."

But it was not all doom and gloom as running and cycling both experienced an increase in numbers to remain the second and third most popular sports in the country, with more than two million participants each.

Other sports to get a boost were tennis and basketball, reports The Guardian. "Figures also remained stable for team sports including football, both codes of rugby, hockey and netball," it adds.

The figures hinted at an economic reason for the fall in participation. The biggest declines came in pastimes, swimming and gym, for which people must pay to use facilities.

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