The French love football, but when it comes to participation, walking and hiking come first. This is one of the elements that emerge from a recent study by a French market research agency, Observatoire Cetelem, on the state of play in sports participation. It is the first of three studies that Observatoire Cetelem has decided to devote to the attitude of the French people toward sports.

When asked about their favorite sports, football tops the ranking, chosen by 13 percent of those surveyed. However, when looking at the most practiced sports, walking and hiking come first at 47 percent, followed by fitness and body-building at 20 percent, then swimming at 18 percent. Football only occupies the seventh spot with a ratio of 7 percent. Walking and hiking are especially popular among those aged 50+, who account for 61 percent of the population, and are equally popular among men and women, both reaching 50 percent.

The survey was conducted online by Harris Interactive from Oct. 10-12, 2017 on a sample of 1,018 people, representative of French people aged 18 and over. The study took into account a series of variables including, sex, age, socio-professional category and region of the interviewee.

When asked about where they enjoy practicing sports, the French show again their enthusiasm for the outdoors as they opt in the first place for open-air activities, which were chosen by 58 percent of those surveyed, as opposed to a gym or other sports infrastructures, chosen by 28 percent of those surveyed. A significant share said they enjoyed practicing physical activity at home, which was the answer of 13 percent of those surveyed.

More than three-quarters (77%) of the respondents said they practiced some kinds of sports. The percentage goes down to 58 percent when looking at those who practice physical activities once a week or more frequently. Unfortunately, nearly a quarter (23%) admit they never practice any sports, with even higher figures for the working classes and those living in rural areas, accounting for 29 percent and 28 percent of the sample, respectively.

Participating in physical activities is first and foremost associated with well-being and health. More than half of those surveyed (53%) said they felt a sense of need to do sports in order to preserve their health and keep fit. As for the budget allocated to sports, the French spend on average €264 per year, although the amount can vary considerably depending on whether or not a person actually participates in sports and the frequency of participation.

Among the favorite sports regardless of participation rates, football (13%) is followed by walking and hiking (8%) in the second spot, then swimming and rugby (both at 7 percent), tennis (6%), and then cycling/mountain biking and fitness/body building, both at 5 percent.

Young people aged 35 or less are increasingly using the internet and digital devices, such as activity trackers and apps, for sporting purposes. They account for 20 percent of the participants in any kind of sport within that age group, versus an average of 8 percent for the total sample. The accessibility of sport in the workplace is also a fast-growing trend, and this is the case regardless of age. Even though only 9 percent said they participate in physical activities in their workplace, 47 percent more said they would like their employer to offer them this option.

Researchers also looked into the reasons why many French do not participate in any sports. A lack of interest emerged by far as the most common reason (55%), followed by lack of time (24%) and physical problems (23%). Only 8 percent said they did not engage in any sports due to financial constraints, although the percentage jumps to 15 percent among those who have children.