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National sport participation rate continues to decline

The national sport participation rate1 dropped in 2005, a continuation of the downward trend that was observed in the 1998 General Social Survey results. Participation in sport declined from 45% in 1992 to 28% in 2005 in Canada. In 1998, more than a third (34%) of the Canadian population aged 15 and over had participated in sport on a regular basis; seven years later, the figure was about one quarter of the population. That was down from 9.6 million Canadians in 1992 to 7.3 million in 2005.

Decreased sport participation across all age groups

Young Canadians aged 15 to 18 had the highest sport participation rate, but that too declined from 77% in 1992 to 59% in 2005. Canadians aged 55 and over had the lowest participation rate at 17%, down from 25% in 1992. A similar trend was observed in the other age groups. As Canadians 15 years and over get older, their rate of participation in sport decreases. With over two-thirds of the Canadian adult population 35 years of age and over in 2005, this downward trend may continue as the population continues to age.

Gender makes a difference

Men participate in sport much more actively than women. While there remains a huge gender gap in sport participation between the two sexes, the spread narrowed over the last seven years. In 1998, the spread between the two sexes was 17 percentage points with 43% of men and 26% of women participating in sport. By 2005, the gap had dropped to 15 percentage points, with just 36% of men and 21% of women participating in sport.

Nova Scotia is the new leader in sport participation

In 2005, participation in sport declined in all provinces except Prince Edward Island, dropping the most in Quebec and British Columbia.

In 1998, Quebec led the nation with a sport participation rate of 38%. By 2005, the participation rate in Quebec had dropped to 27%. Nova Scotia took over the lead with over 32% participation, followed by Alberta with 30%. Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest participation rate at 24%.

Educational attainment an indicator of active sport participation

Active participation increases with education, rising steadily through successive levels of education to the attainment of a university degree. The higher the level of education, 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.

Higher income earners more likely to participate in sport

Income has a profound influence on sport participation. Sport participation increases as household income grows. In 2005, families in the income range of $80,000 and over were twice as likely to participate in sport as those with household incomes of less than $30,000.

The influence of language on sport participation is minimal

As in 1998, mother tongue (the first childhood language) had little impact on the rate of sport participation in 2005. This is most apparent at the national level, where the participation rate was the same for both anglophones and francophones (30%). However, further disaggregation of data shows that anglophone men were slightly more apt to participate in sport than francophone men. The reverse was the case for females, with francophone women having a slight edge in sport participation.

People born in Canada participate in sport more than immigrants

People born in Canada are more likely to participate in sport than people born outside Canada. Recent immigrants2 reported a participation rate of 27%, almost three percentage points below the Canadian-born rate. However, those who came to Canada before 1990 were much less likely to participate in sport, with only a 19% participation rate.

Students participate more actively in sport than any other group

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

Participation highly concentrated in a few sports

Out of nearly 100 sports played in Canada, participation is highly concentrated in about 20 sports led by golf, ice hockey, swimming, soccer, basketball, baseball, volleyball, skiing and cycling. For men, concentration was mostly in hockey, golf, basketball, baseball and soccer, in that order. A quite different picture emerges for women. They preferred swimming, golf, soccer, volleyball and skiing.

Canadian children aged 5 to 14 prefer soccer

Soccer has become the sport of choice for Canadian children aged 5 to 14. Boys and girls recorded the same participation rate (44%) in 2005. Soccer was followed by ice hockey, swimming and baseball.

While overall, boys (55%) were more actively involved in sport than girls (44%), girls maintained the same level of participation as in 1998, while boys' involvement in sport dropped from 59% over the same period.

Household income continued to be a major determinant of sport participation for children. In 2005, only 43% of children from households in the lower income range of less than $40,000 were active in sport compared with 63% of those from households with incomes of over $80,000.

Slightly fewer Canadians belong to a sport club or league

In 2005, 18% of all Canadians (aged 15 and older) reported belonging to a club, a local community league or other local or regional amateur sport organization, down 1 percentage-point from the 19% belonging to sport clubs or leagues in 1998.

Gender gap among active Canadians participating in tournaments and competitions

The proportion of active Canadians participating in tournaments and competitions continues to grow, from 36% in 1998 to 39% in 2005.

While more active males participated in competitive sports than active females, the gap between them has narrowed from a 12 percentage point spread in 1998 to 10 percentage points in 2005. In 1998, 29% of active females participated in competitive sports. By 2005, the proportion had reached 33%.

Active participation declining while volunteering in sports increasing

In contrast to a declining active sport participation, volunteering in sports showed notable increases overall. The number of amateur coaches increased 1.6% from 1998 to almost 1.8 million in 2005. Similarly, over 2 million Canadians volunteered their time as administrators or helpers, up 18% from 1998.

However, the number of adult Canadians who volunteered as referees, officials or umpires decreased 15% to 800,000 in 2005 after it peaked at 937,000 in 1998.

Women coaches outnumber their male counterparts in amateur sport

Besides actively participating in sport, women were indirectly involved in sport, volunteering their time as coaches, administrators, referees and spectators. In 2005, women involved in amateur sport as coaches reached 882,000, 15% higher than in 1998. They outnumbered their male counterparts by a slight margin. Over the same period, the number of male coaches dropped 9% to 874,000. Overall, 7% of Canadians were involved in amateur coaching in 2005, up from 4% in 1992 when men dominated the field.

Similarly, the number of female volunteer administrators jumped nearly 15% to 992,000. The number of male administrators also grew, reaching 1,020,000 in 2005, a 17% increase from 1998.

Involvement in amateur sport as spectators almost doubled in 13 years

The number of adult Canadians involved in amateur sport as spectators reached 9.2 million in 2005. That was 20.3% higher than reported in 1998. In 1992, only 5 million Canadians were involved in amateur sport as spectators.

Relaxation ranked the most important benefit of sport participation

Active Canadians cited relaxation as the most important benefit of sport participation. In 2005, 73% of active Canadians ranked relaxation as the most beneficial outcome of participating in sport. Physical health and fitness came second with 68%. Improvement in social networks through association with new friends and acquaintances was ranked the least important at 34%.