Ipswich is named East Anglia’s top sporting town in research by ESPN and University of Bath

Nico Covatti leads Josh Bates and Jason Garrity during heat fifteen of the Ipswich Witches v Sheffie

Nico Covatti leads Josh Bates and Jason Garrity during heat fifteen of the Ipswich Witches v Sheffield Tigers (League Cup) meeting at Foxhall Stadium, Ipswich, UK on 23 April 2016. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com - Credit: Picture: Steve Waller

Ipswich has been named the top sporting town or city in East Anglia in a new report.

1978 fa cup Ipswich

1978 fa cup Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Research carried out by sports broadcaster ESPN and the University of Bath assessed each town or city’s value for money, professional success, event atmosphere, sporting history, quality of venues and transport links based on fan responses.

Other factors considered were economic success, choice of sports available, participation level, social atmosphere and local talent.

Ipswich came out on top in East Anglia for the second year running above Norwich, with Ipswich being ranked 36th in the country overall.

Leicester was named the number one sporting city in the country.

Thousands of people took part in the Great East Swim 2016 at Alton Water.

Thousands of people took part in the Great East Swim 2016 at Alton Water. - Credit: Archant

Bryony Rudkin, Ipswich Borough Council portfolio holder for culture and leisure, welcomed the news, and hailed the town’s ability to get people out of their armchairs and having a go as key to the town’s sporting prowess.

“I think sport is really important to people in Ipswich, whether it’s watching Ipswich Town Football Club play or doing something themselves,” she said.

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“We have a wide variety of sport – cycling has become really popular, we have got great swimming facilities and we have got all sorts of different club sports.

“Watching sport on TV, especially with the recent Olympics, is great, but it is getting up and getting out there that makes the difference.”

Cyclists take part in the Sky Ride around Ipswich.

Cyclists take part in the Sky Ride around Ipswich.

Fans ranked value for money as the most important aspect, with 19% of the vote, ahead of matchday atmosphere, which ESPN’s Steven Saunders said demonstrated that fans “care about more than on-field success”.

Professor Thomas Curran, from the University of Bath, added: “The research we carry out for ESPN’s Greatest Sporting Cities combines the opinions of thousands of fans across the country, with rigorously researched third party data to really create a snapshot of what lies at the heart of the connection with fans.

“The results provide many fascinating things to consider for clubs and cities across the country that are looking to improve fan relationships.”

One of those considerations event organisers have made the most of is Ipswich’s parks, facilities and sports centres, laying on dozens of activities for families over the summer holidays. Among them the SkyRide and Crafted Classique earlier this month proved a hit with cyclists, while youngsters enjoyed the active fun days at Holywells Park, daily sports at Crown Pools and Copleston Sports Centre and Jumpers for Goalposts free sports including football, street golf and tennis.

International athlete Evangeline ‘Evie’ Edwards is to be presented with an international iCard by Ip

International athlete Evangeline Evie Edwards is to be presented with an international iCard by Ipswich Borough Council on Friday. These are awarded to those Ipswich athletes that compete nationally and internationally in their respective sport and allows them to use the wide range of facilities that Ipswich Borough Council run. This comes as the Council has provided new court facilities for the Paralympic sport of Boccia at Gainsborough Sports Centre. - Credit: Gregg Brown

Ms Rudkin said: “It’s wonderful and it’s really good to have the feedback that people have enjoyed all of the activities we have put on.

“It’s been a great summer with good weather to encourage people to come and see everything Ipswich has to offer.”

While a packed summer programme of games and sports has helped youngsters get involved, the ActivIpswich group has also been instrumental in helping older people who do not normally take part in sport remain active.

From new age kurling – a variation on the Winter Olympic sport – to Boccia, to badminton and walking football, hundreds of over-45s in the town have joined in the social, relaxed pace of sports from the project.

Project manager Mike McCarthy said: “You have to remember these are people who aren’t playing sport, and mostly are over 60.

“We don’t hang around at bowls clubs – we look for people who don’t play sport and get them involved in something.

“There is something not just in the sport but the way you approach it. Most of our participants have never been to sports centres because this generation has been brought up without sports centres.

“A lot say they haven’t played since school so it’s lovely when you can get them along to something like this.”

Suffolk County Council has highlighted the economic impact sporting events can bring to the town, with the Great East Swim having generated £1.5million over three years, while the Tour of Britain has generated £3.75m for the county since 2012.

Events such as the Women’s Tour of Britain have helped draw in the crowds, while the Ipswich Twilight races and half marathon - both organised by Ipswich JAFFA Running Club - are hugely popular.

Parkrun, meanwhile, continues to attract hundreds of runners in Ipswich and Kesgrave every Saturday.

The Suffolk Sport Aid fund has also been established to help financially support some of the county’s most promising athletes, with more than 200 grants totalling £160,000 having been given out.

Among the big names it has helped are Team GB hockey player Harry Martin, Olympic swimmers Chris Walker-Hebborn and Ryan Crouch, and Boccia ace Evie Edwards.

It’s a legacy that Suffolk County Council’s Most Active County project manager Adam Baker hopes will inspire the next generation.

“These events and the homegrown talent is about inspiring people, and it seems from the survey that it has inspired people to be active, so that is really positive,” he said.

“Having seen the pros do it in Rio there is lots happening here so it’s really positive news, and our sport can help us become the most active county in England, which is our long-term ambition.”