Next year the UK is set to go sports mad. The 2012 Olympics will dominate headlines as athletes and sports men and women from the UK get ready to compete with the best the rest of the world has to offer. The Olympics may be a year away, but as a nation we've been preparing for it since July 2005. But have those preparations meant that there has been an increase in the amount of people paid to be sports men and women? Or are the ranks of amateur competitors growing?
Ten years ago the 2001 Census showed there were over 11,000 people aged 16-74 employed as professional sports players in England and Wales. But what will the 2011 Census show?
The census is a once-a-decade event, run by the Office for National Statistics, that affects everyone in England and Wales. In March 2011 a white envelope with a purple C emblazoned on it will drop through your letterbox. Inside will be a questionnaire which can be completed securely online (through the census website www.census.gov.uk), or on paper. It takes about 10 minutes per adult to complete.
Census statistics are used as the cornerstone for planning our communities.
Housing, schools, hospitals, roads - all of these things are planned using census data.
"The results from the 2011 Census will provide a fascinating insight into the world of professional sport," says Peter Stokes, 2011 Census Statistical Design Manager.
"We ask confidential questions about employment - what people do in their main job - so that we can highlight trends for planners, for example, if more space is needed for leisure or sports related facilities.
"If a business is looking to expand or relocate, census stats can help choose somewhere by identifying areas where there are a significant number of people with appropriate work experience/qualifications. This could make recruitment easier.
"Census statistics can also be used to help work out how effective certain policies are. So, for example, training providers can see, based on a local population's profile (such as age, sex and qualifications), whether the courses they are running are appropriate and relevant, and plan for the future based on accurate figures."
The 2001 Census showed that 11,404 people in England and Wales were employed as professional sports players. Leeds had the most people aged 16-74 employed as professional sports players with 204. While Forest Heath had the highest density with one in every 384 people being paid sports men and women.
Since 2001, certain factors might have had an effect on the numbers of people who have made a career from competing in sports. According to Sport England, the government agency responsible for building the foundations for sporting success, the number of people participating in sport at least three times at week in 2010 was 6,938,000. In the last two years the number of people participating in weekly athletics has increased by over 263,000, while the number of people playing netball has risen by 26,000 thanks to programmes like Back to Netball, which encourages women to return to the sport.
The UK's on-field successes since 2001 might have had an underlying influence on more people taking part in sport too, and seeing professional competition as a viable career option. The UK's teams and competitors have won world titles in cricket, rugby and boxing in the last ten years, while the British team recorded its best medal tally in a century at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, winning 47 in total, including 19 gold.
The increase of grassroots participation and the successes of the UK's national teams may influence others to believe it's possible to forge a career in sports, but have the UK's ranks of professional sports men and women grown just in time for the 2012 Olympics? The 2011 Census will reveal some of the answers.
To find out more about the 2011 Census, go to www.census.gov.uk.