Sport is one of the most common loves across the globe. Many of us simply have a natural need for competition, to see the best of the best, and to get invested in the stories that naturally form when people play at the peak of their game. However, some sports stick out a little more than others and become worldwide phenomena. Here, we’re going to look at the top 10 most popular sports in the world. However, aside from a list of most popular sports, we’re also going to look at how much of a following they have, and just why they’re grown so popular in the first place.
The first and lowest on the list of our most popular sports to follow is golf, with its 450 million fans. The sport of the high roller and the executive, golf originally came from Scotland in the 1400s, where it became popular in part amongst the aristocracy, who had the land to play on. Its maintained that reputation as being the sport of prestigious people since, but is also one of the most accessible sports, becoming highly popular in Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Japan and more.
Much loved as one of the top sports in the world, rugby is followed by roughly 475 million people. A highly popular university or college contact sport, it started in England and spread throughout the Commonwealth from there, still popular in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The aim of the game: to get the ball to the opposite end of the field from your own goal, with plenty of tackling along the way.
One of the US’s most famous sports, the majority of baseball’s 500 million fans comes from the US, where it evolved naturally from English bat sports such as cricket, but there are plenty in East Asia and Latin America, with Japan being particularly fond of the sport. It’s a bat and ball game, with players trying to make it around the bases of the diamond in the time it takes the opposing team to catch and return the ball after it has been batted away.
Another one of the most watched sports in the world that comes from the US, basketball’s origins can be traced back to a Canadian teacher in the 1800s. With 825 million followers this game, which involves a lot of running, dribbling, and “shooting” the ball with the primary aim of getting it in the opposing team’s hoop, is more popular worldwide than other US-centric sports, with teams based worldwide, with the Philippines, Australia, and Canada being particularly into the game.
It might surprise some to hear this, but table tennis is easily one of the most played sports in the whole world. With over 875 million fans, this game mostly revolves around a net in the centre of a table, and two players with paddles batting a ball back and forth, trying to get the opposing player to hit the net or miss hitting the ball entirely. Also known as ping pong, it started in England in the 20th century but has grown most popular in Asia. There are still a lot of players in Europe, too.
Another of the biggest sports in the world, volleyball shares some of the same appeal as table tennis. The game, involving a net that players have to hit a ball over to try and get the opposing side to miss or hit the net, shares the same kind of accessibility as table tennis, which is part of why it has 900 million fans. It’s mostly played in North America, but it’s popular across the whole globe.
A ball and net game, much like volleyball and table tennis but with a court and full-sized rackets, 1 billion people follow tennis, making it a strong contender for the most-watched sport in the world. Tennis can be traced back to lawn tennis, which was played in Birmingham, England, in the late 19th century. Nowadays, it’s played the world over, in the UK, France, Australia, US, New Zealand, Switzerland and Spain just as fervently.
Played both on grass and on ice, hockey might be a lot more widely loved than you expect. As one of the world’s most popular sports, it attracts over 2 billion fans. The field version is a natural descendent of stick and ball games that have been played for millennia, whereas ice hockey can be traced more directly to Canada in 1875. Ice hockey is still most popular amongst Canadians, the US, and Northern Europe, but field hockey is played the world over, in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
As complex as the game can seem to outsiders, cricket is one of the most played sports in the world, with over 2.5 billion fans. Another sport founded in the UK was exported to colonies and the commonwealth and remains popular in India, Pakistan, and Australia as result. This game is much like cricket, where players score runs after batting away a ball across a large field.
With over 4 billion fans across the world, football (or soccer) is the most popular sport in the world. The origins of this sport are hard to trace, but equivalent games were played in ancient China, Greece, Rome, and other places, but its modern version was cemented in the UK and exported worldwide. The game, involving eleven players trying to get a ball into the opposing team’s nets without using their arms, is popular across the whole world.
Hopefully, the information above gives you a better idea of not just the top 10 most popular sports in the world and what they are, but what it is about them that grabs so many people. Of course, your favourite sport might not be amongst the most popular sports worldwide, but that doesn’t make it any less valid a pastime to get into than any of those featured above.