No matter where you go in the world, there will always seem to be at least one sport that captures the national interest. What’s really interesting is that sports differ so much, with the United States in particular favouring a number of sports that are not as extensively played elsewhere in the world.
On this page I hope to take a closer look at some of the most popular sports in the world and examine the countries where those sports have reached peak levels of popularity.
If there is one sport that can claim to be truly worldwide, it probably has to be soccer. Even in the United States, where it had traditionally been seen as a second-rate sport compared to the favourites in that country, the influx of top talent into Major League Soccer has helped its status.
Practically every nation has a soccer league and the game is even expanding into China and other countries where it hadn’t previously been played to such a large degree. It is most popular in Europe and South America though, but events like the World Cup really help to bring every country together for the sport.
In recent years American Football has been making some international waves. After all, I live in Serbia but I manage to play as part of a team in that country. The Super Bowl is now a worldwide event and countries like the UK, which have been traditionally slow to adopt the sport, have started to screen shows dedicated to it.
The appeal of American Football lies in its high-impact nature and in-depth tactics. It’s a sport where brains and brawn combine for success, plus its high octane and offers tons of thrills and spills along the way.
While it may be a bit of an alien sport to a lot of my American readers, cricket has been massively popular all over the world for many years. The roots of this can probably be found in England’s colonial era, when the sport was introduced to many countries who were part of the British Empire.
Today it is played widely in England, but is also massively popular in a number of Asian countries, like India and Pakistan, in addition to being one of the sports of choice in Australia. Some even argue that it is second only to soccer in terms of the numbers of fans who watch the sport around the world.
A surprising entrant into the list of most popular sports is hockey. While the sport of ice hockey is massive in the United States, Canada and Russia, it hasn’t quite caught on to the same degree elsewhere.
However, when you throw field hockey into the mix, the story starts to change a little. That sport is played widely in schools all over the world and has quite the surprising following competitively, despite the fact that it doesn’t get as much media coverage as the other sports on this list.
Tennis attracts a global audience every year, with the major tournaments in particular being must-see events for any sports fans. People like Andy Murray, the Williams sisters and Novak Djokovic are household names because of their performances on the tennis court. Since the sport has become part of the Olympics, it has even started gaining recognition from people who might traditionally be more entertained by athletics.
The sport, like many others, finds its origins in the United Kingdom and it is probably the initial accessibility of tennis, coupled with the practice it takes to actually master the sport, that have made it so popular. Other racquet sports, like badminton and squash, are also fairly popular around the world.
Often referred to as “America’s Favourite Pastime”, baseball has been a staple in the country for decades and events like the World Series are watched all over the globe. The sport is also played extensively in Japan, where it vies with soccer for the title of most popular sport in that country, perhaps just about edging it out in the process.
A lot of countries also play similar games, without latching on to baseball as fervently. Rounders is a popular schoolyard game in the UK and variants like stickball and softball are also played throughout the world.
The true draw of basketball is its accessibility. All you need is a ball and a hoop and you’re ready to play. The right gear helps, but it isn’t as essential to playing the game recreationally as it might be for others.
Basketball is also popular because it is a fast-paced, high-scoring game that has the ability to induce nail-biting tension in viewers. There really are few sporting moments as special as a player landing a winning basket just as the final buzzer goes off.