The 10 Most Popular Sports in the World: By Number of Fans and Participants
The 10 Most Popular Sports In the World: Analysing Fan Numbers and Playing Participants
Sports as a form of recreation have been around for over 3,000 years.
In Ancient Greece, competitors participated in the first types of athletic competitions and people watched for entertainment.
Of course, things have moved on a bit since then and there are myriad different sports that compete in each country for the title of ‘Most Popular’.
But what are the most popular sports in the world in 2023?
|Registered Players (Millions)
|Hockey (Ice Hockey & Field Hockey)
|Rugby (Union & League)
|3.5 (regular participants)
|Horse Racing & Equestrian
The World’s most popular sports bring people together and create a sense of connectivity, peace and harmony. Just look at the way the 2012 Olympics brought a nation together after a period of crisis in global markets.
Governments, communities, and private and public sectors support sportspeople, allowing them to access resources and improve skill levels in their sport. This often plays a vital part in community building and can drive a collective under one cause; think Friday Night Lights.
Sports are popular in all countries because they are an excellent source of entertainment, enthusiasm and enjoyment for people of all ages and walks of life, whether as spectators or participants.
Many people participate in sports to stay healthy and fit; others use it as a way to socialise, meet new people and make friends.
Sporting events also contribute to the economy, generate revenue and create significant employment opportunities.
In this article, find out about the 10 most popular sports in the world!
We have looked at the stats for fans and participants and also viewing numbers for major events.
1. Football (Soccer): 3.5 Billion Fans / 240 Million registered players
Football is the world’s most popular sport simply because it has the most fans (3.5 billion) and has active players in almost every country in the world.
Almost every country also has a professional league, with the English Premier League and Spain’s La Liga being the 2 most well-known.
Football/Soccer is accessible to everyone, regardless of age, physical fitness and economic situation. You just need the old jumpers for goalposts and a ball, and away you go.
In fact, many famous players began playing at the street level, especially in Brazil where the great Ronaldo Nazario and Neymar were products of street football.
The 1930 Football World Cup
Football gained popularity in the early 20th century, especially after the 1930 World Cup.
Although only 13 nations participated in the first World Cup tournament, this event brought football into the limelight. Today, football has over 3.5 billion fans worldwide.
The first World Cup was won by Uruguay and since then the most successful nation has been South American compatriots Brazil.
How many Football Players are there in the World?
Which country has the Most Football fans?
China has the most significant number of football fans because it has a huge population and a once-popular professional league. In recent years professional football in China has lost some of its lustre, and has been overtaken by the Saudi Pro League in terms of players earning massive salaries.
India has around 125 million football fans, showing that football is one of the most popular sports in South Asia, although it has some way to go to be more popular than Cricket in the region.
Around 80% of people living in the United Arab Emirates show a keen interest in football, followed by Thailand (78%), Chile (75%), Portugal (75%), Turkey (75%), Mexico (73%), Spain (70%) and South Africa (70%).
The countries with the most stadiums include:
United States: 300 stadiums
China: 180 stadiums
United Kingdom: 170 stadiums
India: 150 stadiums
South Korea: 130 stadiums
American stadiums allow local, college-level, state-level and national-level teams to practice and play football - and soccer is one of the most popular sports in the US.
In addition, Germany has the largest number of football stadiums in Europe after the UK - and football is one of the most popular sports in Germany.
The Rungrado 1st May Stadium in North Korea is the biggest football stadium in the world, with a seating capacity of 150,000.
Football’s Most Famous Players
2. Cricket: 2.5 Billion Fans / 30 Million Registered Cricket Players
Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world.
There are numerous reasons why this sport is so popular across the globe, particularly in South Asia, where it gained popularity as a legacy game introduced by the British when they colonised India. It is a hugely popular game in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.
Other countries that are fond of cricket also have connections back to the British Empire, including Australia, South Africa and the West Indies.
Why is Cricket so popular in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh?
First, people of all ages play and watch cricket, Pakistan is a great example.
Second, it has a broad and engaged fan base and sponsorships from hundreds of brands.
Cricket has over 2.5 billion fans worldwide. Approximately 90% belong to the Indian subcontinent and cricket is one of the most popular sports in India.
There are around 4,200 professional cricket players, but the total number of registered cricketers is approximately 30 million.
Although one-day international and T20 games dominate the world of cricket in the 21st century, 121 stadiums have hosted test matches since 1877, after the first official match between England and Australia.
Famous Cricket Venues
The Home of Cricket is Lords, in London, which is the site of the Marleybone Cricket Club, also known as the MCC.
The Narendra Modi stadium near Ahmedabad, India, is the biggest cricket stadium in the world, with a capacity of 132,000 spectators.
Some of the most famous and beautiful cricket stadiums in the world are:
Queenstown Events Center (New Zealand)
Newlands (South Africa)
Cricket’s Most Famous Players
Sachin Tendulkar - India
Shane Warne - Australia
Sir Ian Botham - England
Sir Viv Richards - West Indies
Imran Khan - Pakistan
3. Hockey (Ice Hockey & Field Hockey): 3.5 Billions Fans /
Hockey is another incredibly popular sport, dating back to ancient times.
Ethiopians and Iranians have played the traditional form of hockey since 1,000 and 2,000 BC, respectively.
On the other hand, modern field hockey first became mainstream in England in the 18th century.
Young players would participate in hockey games organised at the school and college levels, as they still do today at both state and private schools.
The UK established the first Hockey Association in 1876. The Association formulated and implemented the first formal set of hockey rules.
Today, over two billion people worldwide follow both field and ice hockey.
While field hockey is famous in Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa, Ice Hockey has the most followers and players in Northern Europe and North America (USA and Canada).
Pakistan has won the Men's Field Hockey World Cup four times, followed by Germany, Australia and the Netherlands with three titles.
India and Belgium have also won the Field Hockey World Cup.
Famous Field Hockey Players
Sean Curley - UK
Dyhand Chand - India
Jamie Dwyer - Australia
Hassan Sardar - Pakistan
The United States has more than 551,000 registered ice hockey players. Moreover, 30 million players play and participate in hockey games throughout the world.
Canada has around 5,000 outdoor ice hockey rinks, with over 2,860 indoor ice hockey rinks.
It is the most popular sport in Canada, with millions of followers.
The highest level of professional hockey is the National Hockey League, which features professional teams from the USA and Canada.
The most successful team in NHL history are the Montreal Canadiens, who have lifted the Stanley Cup 24 times.
Famous Ice Hockey Players
4. Tennis: 1 Billion Fans / 87 Million Unique Players
Tennis has gained popularity over the last 2 centuries, having originally been played by monks going back 600 years. The sport was known by various aliases such as Jeu de Paumme, Tenez, and lately Real Tennis.
The game we watch and play now is known as Lawn Tennis, to differentiate it from its older version.
People of all ages, walks of life and skill levels can play this sport, it is one of the most commonly played individual sports out there, although it does take a lot of practice to get good at.
Tennis is not considered an affordable sport, as in one that anyone can play, you need is a racket and a ball in order to get started but of course a court with a net is a prerequisite, and they are not common in all countries.…. and a more comprehensive list of tennis equipment is needed once you really get into it!
Tennis is one of the most popular sports in Europe, with a long history and tradition in countries such as Sweden.
Major Tennis Tournaments
Tennis has a professional tour for men, the ATP and for women, the WTA. The highlight of both tours are the 4 ‘Grand Slam’ tournaments that are each played once per year. These are;
The Australian Open - Melbourne
The French Open - Rolland Garros
The Championships - Wimbledon
The US Open - Flushing Meadow, New York City
Wimbledon attracts hundreds of thousands of people and massive attention from electronic, print and social media, and is considered the pinnacle of all tennis tournaments. Each Grand Slam is played on a different surface, providing a unique challenge to all players.
Rafa Nadal of Spain is known as the King of Clay, for his dominance at the French Open, having won a staggering 14 titles there.
Participation in Tennis Around the World
Around 87 million people play or participate in this sport.
In simple words, around 1.17% of the world's population plays this incredible game. Millions of people watch tennis on television and online platforms.
Around 642,000 people played or participated in tennis twice a month in 2021.
Likewise, 345,000 students played tennis in high school during the Covid-19 pandemic (2020) in the United States. Overall, 22.62 million local and professional players participated in this sport in the US in 2021.
A more obscure version of the game was actually the original game of tennis, now known as Real Tennis, there are around 50 active courts in the world, of which the majority are in the UK.
The World’s Most Famous Tennis Players
5. Volleyball: 900 Million Fans / 800 Million players
Everyone loves volleyball because this sport promotes socialisation, physical fitness and harmony among different communities, nations and cultures.
You can see volleyball played on the beaches of Brazil and in the sports halls of England, it is a truly global sport.
Volleyball is an excellent way to meet new people and make friends, and it doesn’t take a massive toll on your musculoskeletal structure due to its low-impact nature at the beginner level.
Over 800 million people play volleyball in different parts of the world, and 37 million local and professional players participate in volleyball in the US.
Volleyball has over 900 million followers, and one of the primary reasons behind this popularity is volleyball's inclusion in the Summer Olympic Games.
Over 10 million people watched the FIVB Volleyball Men's Championship Final between Italy and Poland - and volleyball is one of the most popular sports in Poland.
"World Volleyball TV" is the world's largest OTT platform, documenting over 600,000 unique viewers and 38.8 million minutes of watch time in the FIVB World Championship.
Famous Volleyball Players
6. Table Tennis: 875 Million Fans / 300 Million Players
Table Tennis is one of the most popular sports, with a substantial number of followers worldwide.
World Championship, Olympics and Asia Games attract millions of table tennis fans, including TV and social media audiences.
Taiwan and Iran have a combined population of 88.8 million. Interestingly, table tennis is among the top three sports in these two countries.
In addition, it is among the top 10 sports in other countries, including India, Hong Kong, China, Russia, Poland, Egypt and Singapore.
Over 300 million people play or participate in table tennis locally or nationally. Ping pong is one of the most popular sports in China, and it is the national sport of this country.
It became an official Olympic sport in 1988. Chinese players have made significant achievements in table tennis, and some of the greatest table tennis players of all-time are Chinese. For instance, Chinese athletes won 28 gold medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The Chinese National Team has earned massive respect and a huge fan following for their incredible table tennis skills and enormous achievements.
In fact, the Chinese National Team's success in table tennis has earned them the name "Dream Team.”
Table tennis is an integral component of Chinese culture and school curriculum.
Famous Table Tennis Players
7. Basketball: 2.2 Billion Fans / 450 Million Players
Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world, with over 2.2 billion fans.
Around 450 million people play basketball in 213 countries at local, community and national levels.
The NBA is the most popular basketball franchise in the United States, and it has also gained millions of followers in other countries. The NBA generated over 32 billion video views across all platforms in 2022-2023, which is an insane amount!
Most people play basketball because it is an exciting, physically intensive and fast-paced sport, allowing young players with different skill levels to enjoy it.
It has also produced some of the world’s most Iconic athletes such as Michael Jordan and Lebron James, who are considered the 2 greatest players to have played the game.
Basketball’s Most Famous Players
8. Rugby (Rugby Union & Rugby League): 500 Million fans / 18 Million Players
Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world.
It has more participants and spectators in North America, Australia and New Zealand. In fact, it is the most popular sport in New Zealand.
The rugby community is open, cooperative and supportive of new players.
Rugby has gained popularity in Japan, Uruguay, Georgia and Spain, thanks to the government's interest in promoting this sport and providing opportunities for youngsters to participate in games at local and national levels.
Rugby has over 877 million fans in different countries.
Specifically, Rugby Union has more than 405 million fans worldwide.
Both women and men have shown a keen interest in rugby, and more and more female players have emerged in this sport.
Rugby Union’s Most Famous Players
Jonah Lomu - New Zealand
Bryan Habana - South Africa
9. Boxing: 400 Million Fans / 3.5 Million people Box regularly
Boxing is another world-famous sport- and the most popular sport in Cuba.
It is popular for its intense and adrenaline-pumping action, causing fans to stay on the edge of their seats throughout a bought.
59.6% of people worldwide show an interest in boxing and around 3.47 million people box as part of their fitness regimen.
There are various boxers who refined this brutal sport, but nobody matches the enthusiasm, skill and technique of Muhammad Ali, the most iconic boxer of all time.
The US has the most boxing medals in Olympic history with US boxers having won over 117 medals in various boxing categories.
The Olympic Games included men's boxing in 1904 and women's boxing in 2012. China has the most Olympic medals in women's boxing.
Prince Naseem Hamed
10. Horse Racing & Equestrian: 2 Billion Fans
The outlier in the group and perhaps it doesn’t appear to be so popular at first until you look into the numbers in Horse Racing.
In 2020, 1.45 Billion people watched or placed a bet on a horse race of some kind, which is a mind-boggling number.
Horse Racing is extremely popular in the UK, Japan, France, USA and Australia with huge races such as the Grand National and the Prix De L’Arc du Triomphe, drawing in hundreds of millions of viewers per race.
Horses are intrinsic to many popular cultures, with the remarkable stat that 1 in every 120 people owns a horse!
Racing is known all over the world and has produced some amazing anecdotes and quotes, and will continue to do so as long as man and horse keep their close relationship.
Equestrian sports are generally well supported when the Summer Olympics rolls around every 4 years, but outside of that, it has quite a niche audience. Participation however is high, and some of the greatest equestrian athletes continue to inspire young up-and-coming pony riders all over the world.
Some Famous Racehorses
A Word on Baseball!
However, fans and viewership are limited outside of these countries and suggestions that 500 million people worldwide watch Baseball seem reasonable, yet participation numbers are significantly lower compared to other sports.
We at the Sporting Blog love Baseball and have lots of unique MLB content for you below!
Which of these popular sports do you watch or play?
Whether football, volleyball, cricket, rugby or boxing, sports will always unify people.
Sport brings together those of different backgrounds, cultures and religions- and it allows fans to support and celebrate their favourite teams or players.
Sports act as a bridge between cultural divides and promote peace, togetherness and harmony.