Saturday, June 15, 2024

Running on empty: Sport England figures show further squash decline

Squash participation in England has fallen by just over 10% since the year before the pandemic, official figures reveal.

Statistics in the latest Sport England Active Lives survey show that 264,100 adults (over-16s) had played squash or Squash57 (racketball) at least twice in the last 28 days when surveyed between November 2021-22 – a drop of 30,100 since the last set of figures to be unaffected by Covid-19 (November 2018-19).

Although this percentage decline (10% over three years) is a slight improvement on the previous 4% year-on-year drop-off before the pandemic, it is still sobering proof that – despite the great efforts of many grassroots heroes and England Squash – our sport is continuing to shrink.

The publication of the latest Active Lives survey had been delayed, prolonging the agony for England Squash and many other English sports governing bodies who had been hoping for evidence of a full recovery in levels of participation.

The survey – which each year engages over 200,000 interviewees – showed an overall year-on-year 1.7% rise in the number of adults meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of doing 150 minutes or more of moderate physical activity per week. In fact, since the first edition of the survey between November 2015-16, there are now 1.5m more active adults in England.

But squash, alas, continues to buck that trend, with the number of regular players continuing its long-term pattern of alarming decline.

This drop-off is occurring amongst the group of players who we can reasonably portray as the core of English grassroots squash – those fit, keen and dedicated enough to play at least twice a month. Since we were all banned from our clubs during the Covid-19 lockdowns, over 10% of those players have not picked up their racket again.

Even worse are the figures showing occasional participation – those who said they had participated in squash once or more in the last year. The new Sport England numbers show squash has taken a massive hit here.

Between November 2018-19 (before the pandemic inevitably affected figures in the ensuing two years’ surveys), 1,056,300 adults had played squash at least once. That figure has now crashed to 773,300 – a drop of 27%.

Although very occasional squash players are less of a concern for the industry, the huge drop – when compared to the overall population’s rise in physical activity levels – shows fewer and fewer people are choosing squash as an infrequent form of recreational exercise or occasional fun leisure pursuit.

The reasons for these worrying statistics have been debated at length on Squash Mad and elsewhere. As we have documented, there is some excellent work going on in the shires to try to arrest these participation trends. The question is, how do we replicate these at scale to make the positive impact more widespread?

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