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Massive decline in Australians’ participation in rugby, squash and tenpin bowling

Massive decline in Australians’ participation in rugby, squash and tenpin bowling
March 23, 2017

Sports including rugby, squash, tenpin bowling and pool/snooker/billards have experienced massive participation declines of in excess of 60% since 2001, with overall figures in newly released sports participation data from Roy Morgan Research showing that just one in five Australians now regularly play competitive sports, down from 27% just 16 years ago.

Roy Morgan’s figure show that participation in rugby union collapsing by an enormous 63% from 148,000 participants in 2001 to just 55,000 active players in 2016.

With thousands of players reportedly leaving clubs last year, rugby union now ranks as Australia’s 26th most popular sport.

Overall, whether one-on-one or team vs team, the number of Australians (aged 14+) who regularly play competitive sport has declined consistently since 2001.

Roy Morgan which monitors the participation trends in over 60 sports, fitness activities and outdoor leisure pursuits, notes that, over the past 15 years, more Australians are walking for exercise, jogging, cycling, gymming and participating in yoga - but fewer are playing most of the 27 sports shown below that can actually be won or lost (with or without breaking a sweat).

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source Australia. Base: Australians aged 14+, January to December 2001 (sample = 26,198) and January to December 2016 (sample = 14,330).

Only a third of these competitive sports have gained regular participants since 2001 (and only five beat the national population growth of 26% over the period).

Roy Morgan cite that football (soccer) has been the big winner of the new century so far, gaining almost 200,000 regular participants (up 46% to 623,000). Now the most-played competitive sport in Australia, in 2001 football was fourth on the list, with only slightly more players than basketball, cricket and netball. While football overtook tennis 10 years ago, since 2014 it has been neck-and-neck with golf – reaching the top spot in 2016.

Rowing has enjoyed the largest proportional growth (up 62% to 118,000 regular participants), while badminton (up 37%), triathlons (up 29% to 67,000) and archery (up 43% to 50,000) have also grown strongly.

The only other competitive sports that gained regular participants over the period (although not quite enough to exceed population growth) are basketball (up 4% to 438,000), martial arts (up 14% to 321,000), athletics or track and field events (up 9% to 173,000), and baseball (up 24% to 61,000).

The popularity of pool, snooker and billiards has declined rapidly since 2001, with the number of regular players today less than third of what it was - back when it was more popular than football. The number of Australians playing tenpin bowling and squash also declined by over 60%.

Tennis lost almost a quarter of a million regular players since 2001 (down 35%), more than any other competitive sport. Almost 100,000 fewer Australians now play netball regularly (down 24%), and 41,000 fewer play cricket (down 10%). Australian Rules football has held on to over 250,000 players (down just 1%) - enough to overtake lawn bowls (down 25% to 233,0000).

Roy Morgan measures other sports and activities that some participants might well do competitively - such as swimming, snowboarding and surfing, boxing, ice skating and horse riding - but were determined here to be more aligned with fitness and leisure than competition.

Sport is losing men and women of all ages
While 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%.

In 2001, 34% of men and 20% of women (aged 14+) played one or more competitive sports regularly; by 2016 it was just 26% and 14% 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% in 2001 to 42% in 2016.

The sharpest proportional declines have been among women aged 35 to 49 and 50+. These groups were already the least likely to play any competitive sport 15 years ago (both 16%), and now just nine% and 10% 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%) and women aged 14 to 24 (from 38 to 33%). For the men, the overall rate has been bolstered by increased participation in the less strenuous compeitions 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 football, volleyball and Australian Rules football.

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source Australia. Base: Australians aged 14+, January to December 2001 (sample = 26,198) and January to December 2016 (sample = 14,330).

Commenting on the findings, Roy Morgan Research Chief Executive Michele Levine explains “Australians are losing their competitive spirit when it comes to playing sport. Instead, more of us routinely go cycling or jogging, hiking and bushwalking, or head to the gym or yoga class.

“Overall, one in two Australians aged 14-plus regularly do some form of sport, fitness or heart-pumping leisure activity, which is unchanged since 2001. So although many sports have fallen out of favour, we’re still keeping comparatively fit through other individual activities that aren’t about keeping score, finishing first, or facing defeat from an opponent. Personal activities are also easier to fit into busy lifestyles, while competitive sports require a lot of time and commitment.

“Walking for exercise has also increased over the period, to now being something almost half of us do regularly. Today almost 20% of Australian don’t participate in any other sport or fitness activity except walking. Together this leaves an estimated three in 10 Australians who don’t do any regular sport or fitness activities at all - not even a brisk walk.

“Roy Morgan’s ongoing sports participation research is a quick go-to source for any association or club, government agency or health organisation needing to understand the long-term trends across demographic segments.” 

Image: Australia's 2017 Super Rugby captains (top) and Bonnyrigg White Eagles take on Sydney Olympic in the Football NSW National Premier League competition (below - courtesy Football NSW).

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5th December 2016 - NRL CONCERN OVER DECLINING RUGBY LEAGUE PARTICIPANT NUMBERS

15th November 2016 - AFL ADVISED TO PLAN FOR LONG TERM INTEREST IN WOMEN’S COMPETITION

3rd May 2016 - SPORTS COMMISSION URGES TEENAGERS TO ‘STICK WITH’ SPORT

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24th November 2015 - FOOTBALL OVERTAKES SWIMMING TO BECOME AUSTRALIA’S MOST POPULAR SPORT FOR CHILDREN 

19th February 2015 - ABS NOTES DECLINING SPORT AND PHYSICAL RECREATION PARTICIPATION

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