Pinpointing the Most Popular Sports in the World is not that easy

What are the world’s most popular sports? A question that is often asked has and possibly never been ultimately determined. The problem with listing the top sports is coming up with a clear

defining variable for the list. By popular, do you mean most watched, most played, or most talked about? These are some of the factors which could define what the most popular sports are.

A quick search online would nearly always label football, or soccer, as the top sport of the world, regardless of the criteria. However, with regards to the rest of the list, each standard differs with

which sports should be labeled “popular.” Beginning with the most popular sports based on viewership, football is rightly at the top of the list. The FIFA World Cup is held every four years and attracts over 30 billion fans worldwide via television alone.

In general, though, the number of estimated football fans worldwide would be around 3.5 billion people.

The number one position is expected; however and surprisingly enough, cricket takes second place. Cricket’s estimated global fan base is 2.5 billion people, with the sport proving to be popular in the UK, Australia, and a few Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Field hockey comes in third with approximately 2 billion fans, which also links to its popularity in Asian countries. Tennis and volleyball make up the fourth and fifth positions, with both also attracting many viewers in Asia and Europe. American sports such as baseball, basketball, and American football are mainly popular in the US, which is why they are much lower on this list.

Interestingly enough, the very same five sports (in the same order) make up the top five most played sports around the world. Clearly the high number of people who watch football, cricket, hockey, tennis and volleyball, also seem to play it.

However, one unique way of measuring the same factor is by looking at how many national federations there are for each sport. The more national federations a sport has generated, the more it is played.

Now this is one list which football does not come in first, as that honor is given to volleyball. There are currently 218 national federations linked to volleyball, which beats football’s 205 federations. On this basis, volleyball is more popular than football. Basketball has the next highest number with 212, while athletics (track and field) incorporates 211 federations.

As mentioned, football had the fourth highest number, as tennis came after with 203 national federations. Although this is clearly an unreliable way of measuring a popularity of a sport, since the number of federations is not indicative of a sport’s popularity. It is still an interesting aspect to look at.

A third method of looking at popular sports is by checking out the internet – the more Wikipedia visits to a certain sport there are, the more popular it is. This list only noted the English Wikipedia site, meaning it reflects the popularity of the sports in the English speaking world only. Nevertheless, the top five still make for an interesting reading. The Wikipedia page for football or soccer is unsurprisingly number one, with daily hits of 14766 to the “association football” page in 2010.

Basketball and American football came second and third, as USA do, after all, make a large proportion of the English speaking world.

However, cricket managed to edge out baseball for fourth place. They’re both considered a bat and ball game, but their levels of popularity in the UK and USA couldn’t be more different. Cricket is popular in a few other English speaking countries, like South Africa and Australia, which is what may have put cricket ahead of baseball, which is really only popular in USA. Overall, the question of the most popular sports in the world is one that’ll continue to stir debates forever with different sports proving to be popular and unpopular in different parts of the world.

For now however, it seems the five most popular sports worldwide are football, cricket, field hockey, tennis, and volleyball.

Nevertheless, it is unlikely the list will stay as such overtime, especially with some sports such as rugby gaining recognition around the world, while a few other sports are losing popularity. Only time will tell, and when that happens, even more grueling debates will unfold.