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The Most Popular Sports in Malaysia

The Most Popular Sports in Malaysia

Malaysia’s Most Popular Sports

Sport is very popular in Malaysia. From participation to spectating, sports are an important part of Malaysian culture, including traditional and Western games.

Badminton - Hugely popular among Malaysians to play and watch

In this article, we will look into which sports are the most popular in Malaysia! We’ll take a look at the popularity of traditional sports, western sports and then popular sports by participation.

According to Statista, the most popular participation sports in Malaysia are:

  • Badminton – 12.19%

  • Running - 10.66%

  • Cycling - 6.78%

  • Swimming – 6.25%

  • Football (soccer) – 4.57%

  • Bowling – 4.45%

  • Not participating in any sport – 3.8%

  • Basketball – 3.65%

  • Other – 3.39%

  • Hiking – 3.22%

  • Fishing – 2.78%

  • Table Tennis – 2.72%

  • Martial Arts – 2.42%

  • Volleyball – 2.01%

  • Billiards – 1.89%

  • Tennis – 1.83%

  • Darts – 1.62%

  • Netball – 1.59%

  • Archery – 1.4%

  • Motor Sports – 1.31%

  • Track and Field – 1.3%

  • Boxing – 1.29%

  • Gymnastics – 1.26%

  • Rock climbing – 1.12%

  • Handball – 1.09%

  • Squash – 1.05%

The most popular traditional games in Malaysia

Sepak Takraw

Sepak Takraw, also known as kick volleyball, is the national sport of Malaysia.

It is seen as more than just a sport by the people of Malaysia, and it is considered a celebration of culture and tradition, highlighting the country’s rich history.

The game has two variations: Bulatan and the Jaring. The Jaring is the more modern version of the game, the one that evolved and became standardised.

The modern version of this sport was introduced, developed and standardised in 1960, when officials from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar met in Kuala Lumpur to agree on a name and standard rules for it. 

The origins of the sport can be found all over Southeast Asia. Neighbouring countries to Malaysia have similar sports, resembling some aspects of the sport.

Speak Takraw can be seen as a variation of Western Sports Volleyball, where instead of using hands, the players are allowed to use any part of their bodies except for their lower arms and hands.

The game is between two teams of 2 or 4 players, and the game is played on a badminton court.


The collective term for a class of indigenous martial arts from the Nusantara and surrounding geocultural areas of Southeast Asia, Silat is another traditional game popular in Malaysia.

Silat Melayu or simply Silat is the traditional martial art of the Nusantara region, also known as the Malay Archipelago.

This sport is actually a combative art of self-defense from the Malay world, including langkah ('steps') and jurus ('movements') to ward off or strike assaults, either with or without weapons.

Silat was used by the defence forces of various Southeast Asian kingdoms and states, including Malaysia. In fact, this is still the case in some places.

It is worth noting that there are various styles of Silat, all of which are inspired by the movements of human anatomy, nature and animals.

In Malaysia alone, there are more than 150 Silat styles whose names derive from natural elements, such as animals and plants.

Learn more about the world’s most popular martial arts!

The most popular Western games in Malaysia

1. Badminton

The Sports Minister of Malaysia, Khairy Jamaluddin, said in an interview that badminton is becoming the No.1 sport in Malaysia.

This is for good reason, as almost 12.19% of people in Malaysia play this sport.

Gradually, this sport is becoming one of the most beloved sports in the country, so it is no wonder that many consider it to be Malaysia’s unofficial National Sport.

Many people say that the popularity of the sport increased due to Malaysia's history with badminton and the Olympic games.

Specifically, since the Sidek Brothers won Malaysia's first Olympic medals in the 1992 Summer Olympics, Malaysia has taken great pride in badminton.

The country tried to send more, better players to compete in this sport, increasing its popularity.

More so, badminton players like Datuk Lee Chong Wei are becoming as beloved as the sport itself.

Unlike football, major competition for badminton comes from neighbouring south-Asian countries, meaning people often feel a sense of familiarity with this sport.

All in all, it is safe to say that badminton is the most popular Western sport in Malayisa!

2. Football / Soccer

One of the most popular sports in Malaysia is football.

Football first originated in Malaysia in 1921, and since then it has experienced a gradual increase in popularity.

Today, it is considered one of the most popular sports in the country.

Although their national team isn’t very successful in the world leagues, it is still considered a great team, winning the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup and a gold medal at the 2009 and 2011 Southeast Asian Games.

Some of the best Malaysian football players include:

Hassan Sani, Abdul Ghani Minhat, Santokh Singh, Mokhtar Dahari, R. Arumugam, James Wong, Soh Chin Ann, M. Chandran, Zainal Abidin Hassan and Shukor Salleh.

Check out all of our football content on our Football Blog

3. Cycling

The popularity of cycling in Malaysia is increasing everyday.

The latest studies show that a large amount of Malaysians enjoy cycling on a regular basis, both recreationally and professionally.

Extreme versions of cycling, such as mountain biking, are also experiencing an increase in popularity.

Track cycling is probably the most popular cycling sport in Malaysia. There are two international road cycling tours hosted in Malaysia: the annual Tour de Langkawi and Jelajah Malaysia.

Azizulhasni Awang made history when he won the first Olympic bronze medal in a cycling event in 2016.

This happened again in 2021, when he won the silver medal in the 2021 Olympic men's keirin final.

4. Rugby

Rugby has a long history and significant participation in Malaysia.

The sport was first introduced to the then-British colony of Malaya in the 19th century, and its popularity increased throughout the 20th century.

Currently, rugby in Malaysia is governed by the Malaysian Rugby Union or Kesatuan Ragbi Malaysia.

Rugby is experiencing a significant increase in popularity. This is largely due to the countless efforts of the Get into Rugby (GIR) programme, aiming to get young Malaysians from the countryside into rugby.

This is a fruitful effort, with more than 41,050 registered players in the country. The GIR was started in 2014 by the formal general manager of the Malaysia Rugby Union, Mohd Mazuri.

5. Hockey

Enjoying a decent fanbase in Malaysia, hockey is another relatively popular sport in the country.

Fun fact – the country of Malaysia was actually one of the founding members of the Asian Hockey Federation.

Hockey is governed by the Malaysian Hockey Confederation.

The country is proud of their many achievements in this sport. The national men’s team is considered good, as it ranks 3rd in Asia and 13th in the world. It also won the silver medal in the 2010 Asian Games.

Their women’s team is also considered good, ranking 22nd in world rankings.

6. Motorsports

Head to head with cycling, motorsports are also very popular in Malaysia.

The country hosts the annual Formula One Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit. It also hosts the Malaysian Grand Prix and the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.

In 2016, for the first time in the country’s history of hosting the races, a Malaysian, Khairul Idham Pawi, won the Grand Prix. This was a huge, proud moment for Malaysia!

7. Squash

Squash isn’t popular as a recreational sport, but it is very popular when it comes to competitions.

The sport is governed by the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia, holding annual tournaments in the country, specifically the Kuala Lumpur Open and the Malaysian Open.

Both tournaments show increasing numbers in viewership.

The national women’s team have experienced the most success for the country. This team have been world champions 8 times and their star player, Nicol David, ranked world No.1 in women’s squash.

This is quite an achievement!

8. Swimming 

Swimming is the opposite of squash, gaining more popularity as a recreational sport than in competition.

Despite its financial support from the National Sports Council, and state-of-the-art facilities for both swimming and athletics, experts think that Malaysia needs to get better at athletics and swimming.

Their performance in the pool and on the track has been poor since 2001.

Swimming, water polo, synchronised swimming, diving and open-water swimming in Malaysia all are regulated by the national governing body - Malaysia Swimming Federation.

They are responsible for selecting the teams that represent the country, including the Olympics team, and organising these sports in Malaysia.

Recreational sports in Malaysia

There are a few other sports that are popular in Malaysia on a recreational level, such as hiking and paragliding.

These sports are favoured as recreational sports among locals and tourists for good reason.

Malaysia has some of the most beautiful natural sights, and these sports allow people to experience the natural beauty of the country.

Malaysia as a nation is passionate and versatile when it comes to sport, and it is amazing to see their teams continue to grow and improve.

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