Rugby league participation numbers dwindling according to new Sport England data

Aaron Bower
Super League rugby ball Alamy

Fewer people are playing rugby league according to the latest data published by Sport England this week – though there has been a slight increase in participation levels in the women’s game.

Every year, Sport England publish their survey and study of participation in all individual and team sports and while there are some upticks for some sports, the results for rugby league are somewhat mixed.

It determines anyone who has competed in a sporting activity twice inside a one-month period as a participant, and the data for the year ending November 2023, participation in all team sports has increased by 6 per cent for men, and 8 per cent for women.

However, in rugby league, participation has fallen by 4 per cent – from 42,100 down to 40,600. It is not all bad news, with participation in the women’s game increasing by a per cent, from 12,100 up to 12,200. But that has combined with the men’s figure to make an overall drop-off in participation numbers: 52,800, down from 54,200 the previous year.

Interestingly, league’s figures are in direct contrast to that of rugby union. The 15-player code has enjoyed a huge surge in participation figures in its men’s game of 17 per cent: up to 183,700 from 157,200.

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But women’s rugby union has seen a major drop-off of six per cent, down to 34,500 from 36,700.

Women’s rugby league has also bucked the trend of some other sports, with netball also seeing a drop of 2 per cent in its participation figures. Cricket has seen a drop of 6 per cent, with football 5 per cent.

It means that while the drop in men’s numbers will stand out as a worry, league is continuing to make strides within the women’s game without question.

But an overall drop in participation numbers across the board will give the game’s powerbrokers cause for concern. The figures can be viewed in more detail here.

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