The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that football (soccer) and swimming are the most popular sports with children aged 5-14 years, but football is one of the few sports bucking the trend of a decline in the number of kids playing sport.
Football numbers increased by 37,000 in the three years to 2012 to an overall participation rate of 15 per cent. Swimming has 10,000 fewer swimmers but has the highest participation rate of 18 per cent.
However, in a worrying trend for the health of the nation, the number of children playing sport has declined overall with a number of popular sports also going backwards. There are 42,000 fewer children playing organised sport than three years ago with an decline in the combined participation rate from 63 per cent to 60 per cent This is partially offset from a physical activity perspective by 20,000 more children involved in dancing (mostly girls).
Aussie Rules has lost 8,600 players with boys participation falling to 15 per cent. Netball has 6,000 fewer players and cricket has 12,000 less.
In addition to football, the other sports that have seen their numbers increase include basketball (up 18,000) , martial arts (up 6,000) and gymnastics (up 9,500)
The gap between who plays and who doesn’t has also worsened.
Children from single parent families or families where parents are unemployed are significantly less likely to play organised sport. For children from a two parent family where both parents are unemployed, the participation rate is 28 per cent.
This is very concerning. The challenge for everyone involved in sport, especially policy makers, is to work towards addressing the unfortunate and apparently ever increasing gap between children who have access to organised sport and those who do not.
Put a socio-economic disadvantage together with the difficulties of time poor households and the fact that sport is no longer compulsory within the new national school curriculum and we run the risk of losing our mantle as a sporting nation, adding to the burden of chronic disease in the community and missing out on the potential to build a better society through the natural social inclusion of sport.