23 most popular sports in the world

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It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, sports will be there. Across the world, sports vary by country. Some sports have a massive global interest while others are just a flight of fancy. What could be your national pastime could be seen as strange in another country. But one time is for sure, sports bring people together. International events like the Olympics have ensured that countries can come together to compete in a variety of sports. Others like the World Cup in soccer and rugby bring those folks together from other countries. All sporting events now are regulated to ensure fairness and safety for everyone involved. But what are the most popular sports in the world? With over 8,000 sports in the world, there is something for everyone. Here are the top 23 sports in the world. These sports have the biggest fanbases or the most interest in them globally.


The earliest form of soccer can be found in Ancient Greece but other versions of the game can be found around the ancient world. In the mid 19th century Cambridge University in England came up with the first set of standard rules. Since then they have been changed to what is known as the current soccer rules. Soccer is played around the world and cities have their own teams. There are over 3 billion fans worldwide supporting various teams. Throughout the year fans can support different teams depending on the league they are following. The World Cup takes place every four years allowing fans from across the world to come together for their sport.


Cricket has been spread across the globe due to the once vast British Empire. It began in England in the 16th century and by the 18th century was the national sport. Despite it being seen as a boring sport, it’s actually very dangerous. The first known player to be killed was Jasper Vinall in 1624 when he was hit in the head with a ball. Since then there have been many deaths from ball strikes. Cricket also holds a high standard for sportsmanship. Batsman have been known to walk away if they think that they are out rather than wait for a decision. There are over 2.5 billion fans worldwide but most can be found in England and India.

Field Hockey

In America, this is seen as a female dominated sport but global it is men who play the most. The sport began in England and Scotland in the 19th century. It then spread to the British colonies and is now the national sport of Pakistan. Unlike other types of hockey, only one side of the stick can be used. One of the oldest awards in hockey is the Irish Senior Cup which dates from 1894. Field hockey has been played at an Olympic level since the early part of the 20th century. The sport has around 2 billion fans worldwide for various trams. Field hockey is one of the few sports where there is no gender gap.


Tennis started out as a game in France in the 12th century. In 1872 the first tennis association was formed in Leamington Spa. Tennis is mainly a solo sport but there can be teams of two. Every year there are different championships across the world including the US Open and Wimbledon. Tennis is one of the highest paying sports with the winner of Winbom winning nearly £2 million in prize money. Tennis is seen as exciting because there is no one country that that is a clear winner. The contest is based on a solo performance, not a team, which makes it unpredictable. There are over 1 billion tennis fans across the globe who enjoy the summer showers and strawberries at Wimbledon, including the Queen of England.


When you think of volleyball, your mind might go to a warm beach somewhere. The game was developed in Massachusetts in 1895 for older people. The idea was that the game would be gentler than basketball but still required some effort. Since then the game grew quickly internationally. Nudist adopted the game and from the 1960’s a volleyball court was standard in all colonies. There have been other forms of volleyball set up including using a medicine ball or a beach ball instead of a standard ball. There are now over 90 million fans across the world who enjoy the game.

Table Tennis

Ping Pong or table tennis was first played in England in the 1880’s. It was originally a game that was played by the upper classes as a parlour game. The first federation was formed in 1926. This sport is mainly popular in China and the Chinese have dominated all international tournaments. Since 1992 there have only been Chinese winners in the women’s tournaments. The game was given some much-needed exposure in the film Forrest Gump and since then has become more popular. The appeal of table tennis is that the equipment is cheap and doesn’t need much space. The sport has around 850 million fans around the world and this number is growing quickly.


Baseball is considered the American pastime of choice. The coming of baseball season in America is a sign that spring has arrived. It is believed that the game came from the older English game of rounders. In the 1830’s people had begun playing round ball or baseball as a pass time. In 1854 Alexander Cartwright developed the Knickerbocker Rules as a starting point for modern baseball. From the 1850’s onwards, the baseball craze began. The sport is mainly popular in America but is popular in other countries like Japan. There are around 500 million fans worldwide. One of the main draws to the sport is the uniqueness of each baseball park.


Golf dates back to the 1400’s in Scotland. The purpose of the game is to hit the ball into a hole with as few strokes as possible. Unlike most sports, golf does not have a standard playing area. Every golf course in the world is unique. There is also a choice of clubs to use during the game, depending on the shot being taken. Golf has gained and lost popularity depending on the world champion. Tiger Woods helped America’s interest in the sport. Rory McIlroy has helped get the UK interested in golf again. There are around 450 million fans worldwide with China having one of the fastest growing fan bases.


Basketball was invented as a sport to pass away a rainy day. A Canadian doctor developed the sport so that he could keep his gym classes at the YMCA active during bad weather. The first official game was played in 1892 in New York. Once the game had spread through the YMCA, other places began playing it. The game has since spread across the world but is mainly popular in America. Basketball attracts some of the tallest people with players standing at over 6 foot tall. There are around 400 million fans worldwide and this number is growing. Other countries have begun their own leagues and championships. Women’s basketball is becoming more popular as more women choose to compete.

American Football

American Football is a sure sign that fall is on its way. One of the highlights of Thanksgiving is the Big Game that is played that day. In America, it is simply called football but the rest of the world called America Football so that it is not confused with soccer. It evolved from the English sport of rugby and the first game was played in 1869. Although this is an American sport other countries have begun taking an interest. This is mainly because of the American obsession with the sport. There are around 400 million fans worldwide but has never been played at an Olympic level. There was a demonstration game at the 1932 Summer Olympics to help get some international appeal.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey has become more popular in recent times as it has spread across the world. The game was first played as early as the 1700’s in England. When people began to immigrate to Canada from Britain they brought the sport of hockey with them. The cold winters and frozen lakes provided them with a place to skate and play hockey. Modern ice hockey comes from Canada in 1875 when the first game was arranged indoors. Only a few years later Oxford University in England started its first ice hockey club. There are now teams across the world that compete locally, nationally and internationally. Ice hockey is a full contact sport which provides plenty of drama and injuries during the games.

Formula One

Formula One Racing is one of the most expensive sports on the planet. It is the highest class of single car racing in the world and has been since 1950. The international Grand Prix follows 20 drivers over a series of races. This sport limits the number of participants that can take part every year. Formula One drivers earn the highest salary of any type of racing driver. Races can be watched anywhere in the world and there have been apps designed to enhance the viewer’s experience. Although it is not a contact sport, there is a real danger with F1 racing. Pit crews and drivers have been injured or killed while a race is happening.


Athletics is more than just running. Athletics includes a variety of different sports that include running, jumping and throwing. Athletic events date back to the first Olympics in 776 BC. Since then they have continued to grow across the world as a way to prove sporting ability. Athletics is now the backbone of the Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The Military Academy in Sandhurst was one of the first places to use athletics as a training programme for recruits. Today there is a variety of events that can be enjoyed by anyone at amateur and professional levels. Most athletic events only require the person and some require one piece of equipment. Although they do require space, they can be done indoors or outdoors.


Boxing is a combat sport which is has seen a rise and fall in popularity. From the dawn of time, man has used his fists to fight but the first organised matches may have been part of the first Olympics in Ancient Greece. Known as the “Gentleman’s Sport”, it’s nothing of the sort. There have been many different rules over the years but one of the most known is the Queensberry rules. Boxing now has its own world championship for different titles. Despite the dangers of the sport, professional boxers are only allowed to wear gloves, no headgear. There are certain countries in the world where boxing is banned including Iceland and Iran due to medical concerns and injuries.


Badminton has been played since the 17th century in India. The game was then brought to England where it gained popularity with the upper middle classes. The main difference with this game from tennis and table tennis is the shuttlecock. Badminton is now played around the world and is an Olympic sport. The easiness of the game has made it popular across the world with different people of all ages. It is played globally but is mainly popular in China and India as one of their top five sports. In the UK and America, it is not as popular with the public but very popular in schools as a form of exercise as it can be played in sports halls.


Billiards was once a popular game in England and was played by officers in the army. As they travelled the world they came up with different styles of the traditional game. It is believed that the game of snooker as we know it was developed in an officers mess hall in India. When the game reached England it was considered a gentleman’s game. The need for a large table meant that many people could not play the game. The game took off in England in the late 1960’s when the colour television was first used. It has now become more popular in China and is ranked as their number four sport. Prizes for winning a tournament can be as high as £1,000,000.


The two-wheel bicycle was once just a mode of transport. Now it is seen as one of the toughest sports on the planet. Strength, endurance and being fearless are all necessary for this sport. Anyone can take part in cycling if they have some basic fitness levels. Cycling as a form of transport is becoming more popular as the world turns green and obesity levels are rising. Bike races have been around as long as the bikes. Today there are global competitions for riders to compete including Tour De France. Cycling is more popular in Europe than the rest of the world as most tours are held there. But the Tour De France is still one of the most watched sporting events in the world.


Swimming has been around since prehistoric times but it wasn’t until the 1800’s that it became a competitive sport. Swimming pools were built in and around London at the time. Competitive swimming began to get popular in the early 19th century. Since then there have been a variety of ways to compete. Some swimmers try to break records for being the fastest in the pool. Others choose to swim the greatest distance in open water by swimming across seas. Nearly all countries around the world compete in some form of swimming. When swimming was introduced to the Olympics the races were held in open water. Now you can watch swimmers compete anywhere from the comfort of your home.

Mixed Martial Arts

This full combat sport has become more popular in recent years. The first records of a mixed fighting style can be seen in Ancient Greece. Cage fights were once held in backstreet bars and were illegal. The professional sport is very new with the first fight being held in 1993. When the sport first launched there were few rules which raised safety concerns. The sport has grown as fighters have introduced different fighting styles. Now the fights can be seen on pay-per-view or in arenas across the world. It is mainly popular in Brazil but the USA and Japan have started a big following. Japan is known for its different fighting styles so it’s not surprising that the sport has started to take off there.


The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing is huge in America. It was founded in 1948 and its official headquarters are in Daytona Beach, Florida. Globally there isn’t much of a following. Outside of America, Canada and Mexico are the two countries with the most interest. In the 1920’s Daytona beach was the place to go for setting land speed records. This lead to racing and modified cars which were used for bootlegging alcohol across the country. Racing became popular and NASCAR was formed to help protect the drivers from racing promoters who didn’t pay. Now racers compete for the Spirit Cup and other championships. The sport is known for being dangerous and it was only after the deaths of drivers in 2000 that safety measures were reviewed.


Rugby is the full contact sport which American Football came from. It was developed in the early part of the 19th in England. It is rumoured that the game started after a schoolboy picked up the ball during a game of soccer and ran with it. Despite being a full-contact sport, there is no requirement for safety gear. Mouthguards are worn by all players and some wear helmets. It is very popular in the UK and France with the Six Nations tournament. The rugby world cup is one of the most watched events in the world, only coming in behind the Olympics and the Tour De France. Women’s rugby is growing as a sport, the first women’s game was held in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland in 1887.

Horse Racing

Horse racing has a long history that dates back to the Ancient Babylonians. Chariot racing was popular in Ancient Greece despite how dangerous it was. Horse racing generally has a rider or jockey but it’s not uncommon to riderless horses races in some parts of the world. Horse racing has several different forms. The most popular around the world is flat racing. It is a select sport that only allows certain breeds of horse in certain races. The Grand National is one of the most popular racing events in the UK. Some of the most successful racehorses have come from Ireland. In America, the Kentucky Derby is one of the most popular racing events in the racing calendar.


Gymnastics is a non-contact sport where competitors must show advanced flexibility and strength. Its origins are far from what you would expect as it was originally for military training. The Ancient Greeks used gymnastics as a way to train soldiers for battle and was seen as an asset on the battlefield. Since the 1500’s it has been used as an advanced form of exercise that both men and women can compete in. There is a variety of ways that you can compete in gymnastics including artistic. South Korea and China have some of the finest gymnasts in the world. Competition at Olympic and global levels have been a big focus for these countries in recent years. Nearly every country in the world has an international team to represent them.

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