Although a consensus exists that football is the world’s most popular sport, ranking what the most popular world sports are is difficult, as popularity can be considered in terms of spectatorship, organised participation, recreational participation, overall interest, or some combination of these. Some sports are enormously popular in some parts of the world but nearly invisible in others. Spectatorship for such sports as athletics, swimming, and gymnastics, furthermore, peaks globally during the Olympics and then subsides.
After football, which has the most spectators, global reach, and both registered and recreational participants – not to mention amount of merchandise sold, it is impossible to list world sports in their order of popularity meaningfully. Volleyball and basketball have, surprisingly, more national federations than football does. Hockey has well over a hundred national associations and is particularly popular as a participation sport with women. Tennis is the world’s most popular individual sport, being limited only by the availability of serviceable courts. People everywhere engage in running races, although spectatorship tends to be limited except during major tournaments.
Big Numbers – Limited Reach
Cricket is probably the second most popular spectator sport in the world, largely thanks to its fanatical popularity amongst the billion-plus people on the subcontinent, but its popularity is really limited to only a dozen or so nations. Table tennis enjoys huge popularity in China, Southeast Asia, and Scandinavia, but tends to be a minor recreational sport with scant spectatorship elsewhere. Although a major sport in the United States, Japan, and parts of Canada and Latin America, baseball has little popularity elsewhere. Similarly, although American gridiron football reigns supreme in the US, it tends to have little more than mild curiosity value elsewhere. Ice hockey’s popularity is limited to places with long, cold winters.
Just For Fun
Millions run recreationally without competing. Although participation in golf is limited in most places to wealthier people, its global television viewership is immense, and Tiger Woods was probably the most popular sportsman of the last decade. Finally, although competitions do exist for both, fishing and gardening are enormously popular recreational pastimes globally. Whether they’re sports, though, is a matter of opinion.
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