By Scott Francis
ELEVEN thousand more people have taken the plunge and gone swimming in the past year – bucking a downward trend in the number of swimmers.
The latest figures logging people taking part in sport at least once a week show swimming was the most popular activity in England in the 12 months to October, followed by athletics, cycling, football and golf.
According to Sport England, 2.52 million people now swim once a week, a slight rise in numbers following several years of decline.
Improvements to the whole swimming experience has been given as the main reason why the sport has had increased numbers.
Nick Caplin, chief of participation and development officer for the Amateur Swimming Association said: “We lost sight of the swimmer, we needed to create a customer experience and give them a reason to start swimming.
“Due to the decline in numbers the industry took a long hard look at itself. We spoke to 20,000 people to discuss the issues and launched a five-year strategy eight months ago.
“We’ve been on a journey with the industry and we need to provide value for money, but this is only the start of the journey.
“To a certain degree the record number of women participating in sport has had an effect, as over 8,000 women swim weekly.”
A record number of women are now participating in all kinds of sport, according to Sport England. Statistics show 7.2 million females are regularly physically active which is 250,000 more since the This Girl Can campaign was launched.
Jennie Price, Sport England chief executive, said: “These figures are really encouraging, especially the substantial increase in the number of women playing sport and being active every week. Our This Girl Can campaign set out to tackle the gender gap, so to reduce it significantly in just two years shows we are making a difference.”
Yorkshire-based swimming organisations have also experienced increased participation.
Carol Saunders, of the Carol Saunders Swim School, founded in Leeds in 1987, said: “We had a very large influx over the year and this could have been because of the Olympics and people having more disposable income.
“We have also seen a large influx of women coming to our Yorkshire Viking Triathlon club consequently bringing in more families.”
The popularity of triathlon could have also affected the participation figures for swimming as Sport England puts the numbers for both sports together.
Tony Vout, chairman and coach at Doncaster Triathlon Club said: “The majority of people swimming with us are new to the sport and the numbers have increased massively and we now host five hours of swimming a week.
“I think because it’s three different sports it caters for everyone and it is such a leveller because you’re going to be okay at at least one of the disciplines.”