The Most Popular Sports In The World

By Jason Shvili on October 16 2020 in Society

A shared love for association football (soccer) is a common bond between more than half of the earth's population.
A shared love for association football (soccer) is a common bond between more than half of the earth's population.
  • Football (Soccer) is the most popular sport in the world.
  • The sports of tennis, football (soccer), and cricket all originated in England, but are drawn from older games that have been played throughout history.
  • Rugby and American football are similar, but American football players wear much more protective gear than rugby players.

Sports are popular for a number of reasons. Keeping healthy, for example, is often cited as a reason for participating in sports. Others will tell you that they do sports for recreational purposes. Sports are even more popular with people who do not necessarily participate in them, but love being spectators. Since time immemorial, people have been awed and inspired by extraordinary human beings who are able to perform tremendous athletic feats. Here is a brief discussion of the most popular sports in the world.

1. Football (Soccer) - 4 billion fans

Soccer player on the training field. Image credit: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Football, better known as soccer in the US and Canada, is the most popular sport in the world, with an estimated following of 4 billion fans. Like some of the other sports on this list, the origins of football as we know it are in England in the 19th century, though history points to people playing similar games as far back as two thousand years, beginning in China. One reason for football’s popularity is that unlike other sports that require expensive equipment, all you need to play football is a ball and your foot. Hence, anyone, rich or poor, can enjoy the sport. It is played all over the world, but is particularly popular in Europe, Central and South America, and Africa.

2. Cricket - 2.5 billion fans

Cricketer on the field in action. Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Cricket boasts a fan base of 2.5 billion. The game is most popular in the UK and some former British colonies, notably India, Pakistan and Australia. Like baseball, it involves two teams, a bat, a large field, and scoring runs. There are significant differences, however, including a long rectangular pitch at the center of a cricket field, where the ball is thrown to a batsman, as opposed to a mound at the center of a baseball diamond facing a batter at home plate.

3. Hockey - 2 billion fans

Playing field hockey. Image credit: Skumer/Shutterstock

Hockey, both on ice and in a field, boasts a following of two billion people. Field hockey is mainly played in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, whereas ice hockey is particularly popular in Canada, the US, and Northern Europe. The game involves two teams trying to put a ball into the opposing team’s net with a hockey stick. Unlike ice hockey, field hockey usually does not involve body contact in the form of checking.

4. Tennis - 1 billion

A tennis player prepares to serve a tennis ball. Image credit: Maxisport/Shutterstock

An estimated one billion people worldwide follow tennis, tuning in from around the world. In tennis, players on both sides of an elongated net try to hit a ball with a racket so that it either goes past their opponents or bounces on their opponents’ side twice to score points. Pro tennis players, like Roger Federer and Serena Williams, are now household names around the world.

5. Volleyball - 900 million

Beach Volleyball at sunset. Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Volleyball involves two teams, each on one side of a raised net, trying to “volley” a ball onto the ground of the opposing team’s side for points. The game has a following of 900 million people, mostly in North America and Western Europe but also in Asia, Australia, and South America. One popular variant of the game, known as beach volleyball, is played on sand with two people on each team, as opposed to regular volleyball, where there are normally six players on each team.

6. Table Tennis - 875 million

Table Tennis Player serving. Image credit: dwphotos/Shutterstock

Think of it like tennis, except with what amounts to a table with a net at the center and players on each side trying to get a ball past their opponents. Also known as Ping Pong, table tennis originated in England in the early 20th century. The game is now popular worldwide, with an estimated following of 875 million. It is especially popular in Asia, but is also followed in Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

7. Basketball - 825 million

Playing basketball. Image credit: bbernard/Shutterstock

Invented by James Naismith, a Canadian teaching at a school in the US in the late 19th century, basketball is now played worldwide, and has an estimated following of 825 million. In basketball, two teams attempt to dribble a ball up a court and shoot it into a raised, hoop-shaped net to score points. If you like to run, jump, and shoot, then you’ll love the game of basketball. Like football (soccer), it is particularly popular because not much equipment is needed besides two baskets and a ball, and so is an accessible sport regardless of class.

8. Baseball - 500 million

Baseball batter hits the ball. Image credit: zsolt_uveges/Shutterstock

America’s national pastime is thought to have descended from the English sports, rounders and cricket. Baseball involves two teams trying to hit a ball with a bat between two white lines, with the batters running around a series of bases to score runs (points). Today, baseball is popular, not only in the US, but also in East Asia and Latin America. The sport has an estimated following of 500 million fans.

9. Rugby - 475 million

Rugby players scrum during a game. Image credit: Paolo Bona/Shutterstock

Rugby has an estimated following of 475 million people. The sport originated in England and is now most popular in the UK and other Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand. In rugby, two teams try to kick, carry, or pass a ball over an end (goal) line to score points. Rugby is a contact sport involving a lot of tackling, similar to American football. But whereas American football players wear a lot of padding and hard helmets to protect themselves, rugby players wear very little protection.

10. Golf - 450 million

A golfer swinging a shot. Image credit: Daxiao Productions/Shutterstock

An estimated 450 million people are fans of the game that involves trying to put a small ball in a hole with the fewest strokes possible. Golf originated in Scotland in the 15th century. Interestingly, however, the word golf originated in the Netherlands, from the word “kolf” or “kolve,” which translates to "club." Golf is particularly popular in Western Europe, East Asia, and North America.

The Future of Sports

Sports are almost as old as human civilization itself. In fact, historical evidence suggests that human beings have been participating in sports for the last 3,000 years. Many things about sports have changed over time, even if that love for dynamism and athletic prowess has remained the same. New technology has revolutionized the way many sports are played nowadays. Also relatively new is the concept known as the science of sport, which implies the use of science to improve, not only the performance of athletes but other aspects of sports as well. One of the most recent trends in sports is the move towards making them safer. Thus, athletes in the future may face a lesser risk to their health and wellbeing than their present or past counterparts.  

The Most Popular Sports In The World

RankSportEstimated Global FollowingPrimary Sphere of Influence
1Soccer (Association Football)4.0 BillionGlobally
2Cricket2.5 BillionUK and Commonwealth
3Hockey (Ice and Field)2 BillionEurope, North America, Africa, Asia, and Australia
4Tennis1 BillionGlobally
5Volleyball900 MillionWestern Europe and North America
6Table Tennis875 MillionGlobally
7Basketball825 MillionGlobally
8Baseball500 MillionUnited States, Caribbean, and Japan
9Rugby475 MillionUK and Commonwealth
10Golf450 MillionWestern Europe, East Asia, and North America

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