Swimming participation in England falls by nearly 24%

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Swimming participation in England falls by nearly 24%

Image caption
Over 770,000 fewer adults are now swimming at least once a week in England

The number of adults swimming at least once a week in England has fallen by more than three quarters of a million in the past decade – a 23.7% drop.

The drop in participation comes despite more than 500 new swimming pools opening across the country since 2006.

Sport England data shows 2.5 million people swam weekly in 2015-16, down 776,000 from 3.27 million in 2005-06.

The Amateur Swimming Association said more people were choosing activities such as aquasize and wild swimming.

Swimming, however, remains England”s most popular mass participation sport, with about one in every 20 people aged over 14 swimming at least once a week.

But data gathered by Sport England”s Active People”s Survey shows there has been a 24% decline in the number of people regularly participating in the sport.

Swimming in England

How participation has declined

776,000

fewer people are swimming once a week than in 2005/06

2.5 million

people across England now swim once a week

  • 5,060 publicly accessible swimming pools in England in 2015

  • 12% increase in the number of swimming pools compared to 2006

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The fall in the number of swimmers comes as Sport England"s data also shows 564 new publicly accessible swimming pools have opened in England.

Of these new pools, 73% have been built in London or the south of England.

"We have a real challenge with swimming because it"s not a sport that is continually at the forefront of people"s minds," said Nick Caplin, director of participation at the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA).

"I don"t worry too much about these figures because what we"re finding is that more people are doing different water based activities like wild swimming or aquasize. But what we do need to focus on is ensuring that when people do go to a swimming pool they have a great experience and one they want to repeat.

"Overall I think our sport still has a positive story to tell."


The ASA reported a "surge" in the number of people searching for details about local swimming pools after the success of the Great Britain swimming team at the Rio Olympics in August.

Cuts to council budgets have seen some authorities across England either close swimming pools or allow businesses or charities to take them over.

Image caption
Adam Peaty"s gold in the 100m breaststroke was one of several GB swimming medals in Rio

Faye Howard led a campaign in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire, to keep her local pool open.

"When it comes to participation we have to accept that people are time poor, they want facilities to be convenient," she said.

"We rely on volunteers to keep our costs down but such is the importance of this swimming pool to the local community people are willing to give up their free time to make sure it stays open."

Image caption
The Amateur Swimming Association says the number of people learning to swim is at a record high

The data also shows every region in England has a seen a fall in the number of people swimming regularly.

The biggest recorded falls are found across the North of England, where participation levels have sunk by about a third.

What is the regional swimming picture?
Area People Swimming 2005-06 People Swimming 2015-16 Number of people Percentage Change
England 3,273,800 2,497,800 -776,000 -23.7%
North East 157,600 103,400 -54,200 -34.4%
North West 453,400 313,800 -139,600 -30.8%
East Midlands 284,100 206,600 -77,500 -27.3%
West Midlands 326,100 238,900 -87,200 -26.7%
East of England 366,500 275,600 -90,900 -24.8%
South East 558,300 427,100 -131,200 -23.5%
Yorkshire & Humber 322,700 247,500 -75,200 -23.3%
South West 354,000 278,300 -75,700 -21.4%
London 451,000 406,700 -44,300 -9.8%

The decline in participation is attributed to factors such as changes in individuals" preferences or circumstances, or difficulty in accessing local facilities.

Professor Jim Mckenna from Leeds Beckett University said the fact people were spending more time at work was also having an impact on the number of regular swimmers.

"As a society we"re now working longer and more unpredictable hours. Where once people would nip out in their lunch break for a swim they"re now answering emails at their desk and in general leading a more sedentary life."

As the popularity of swimming has fallen over the past decade sports including athletics and activities such as fitness and conditioning have seen participation levels increase by more than 70%.