'Sport-Obsessed' Wales Compares Badly with Other Countries When It Comes to Taking Part; NATION HAS ONE OF LOWEST LEVELS OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IN EUROPE

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Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON

THE reputation of Wales as a nation of sport lovers has been challenged by international figures which show far fewer people are willing to take part than in similar countries.

In a survey of European countries, only Latvia had lower levels of regular participation in sport.

The research found only around one in three adults played sport at least once a week. This was behind Scotland and England and stood in stark contrast with other European countries.

More than 50% of people in Slovenia and Ireland enjoyed weekly sport. The sportiest country was Finland, where more than seven out of 10 adults took part.

The figures, released as part of World Statistics Day, demonstrate that there is no automatic link between national pride at staging landmark events such as the Ryder Cup and major rugby, cricket and football events and direct involvement in sport.

A Sport Wales spokesman acknowledged the scale of the challenge which lay ahead. The Assembly Government agency, which is responsible for promoting participation in exercise, has responded by targeting young people in the hope that they will develop lifelong sporting activity.

He said: "We recognise that adult participation rates in Wales have remained static over the last decade. In order to address this trend, Sport Wales has focused on developing positive sporting experiences among our young people to encourage lifelong participation in sport.

"We believe that addressing lifestyle choices earlier in life can build habits that last a lifetime."

Concerned... leader Nick He added: "There has also been investment in adult schemes, such as free swimming for people aged 60 and over, and over time these should also have a positive impact on adult participation levels. We want to see a healthy, sporting Wales where children, young people and adults are all participating in local community sport." The unimpressive levels of physical activity may be linked to why Wales does not excel in overall life expectancy.

Women in Wales live for an average of 81.4 years, - more than four years longer than men.

Wales ranks in the bottom third of the rankings for female life expectancy, behind Japan (86.1 years) but ahead of Turkey (75.8 years).

Political leaders reacted with alarm to the findings.

Conservative Assembly leader Nick Bourne said: "It is concerning that Wales has one of the lowest rates of physical activity. This poses considerable challenges for tackling public health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other long-term chronic health conditions."

Eleanor Burnham, the Welsh Liberal Democrat spokeswoman for sport, said: "Despite the Ryder Cup, the success of Team Wales in the Commonwealth games and the evidence that Wales is as sport-obsessed as ever, sadly this is not feeding through to increased participation levels in sport. In the league table of sport participation we are languishing behind Ireland, England and Scotland...

"Regular exercise is so important for physical and mental well-being and for reducing obesity levels. It is clear that the Welsh Assembly Government needs to keep working harder with councils and other bodies to encourage the Welsh to translate a love of sport into a love of exercise."

A spokesman for the Assembly Government laid out how it aimed to change lifestyles across Wales through initiatives such as free swimming. He said: "We also fund Sport Wales to deliver the 5x60 programme to increase the number of secondary school age pupils taking part in sport or physical activity for 60 minutes, at least five times a week.

"Our Creating an Active Wales five-year action plan, launched in January this year, aims to increase participation in sport and make physical activity a natural part of everyone's life. …