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Study: The World's Most Popular Sports

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The World's Most Popular Sports


This page was inspired by an unpleasant individual by the name of pa, who posted a message on our Team Handball Message Board, which read, "Team Handball isn't the second most popular sport in the world.  It truly sucks."  This post was in response to a statement on our site attesting to the popularity of Team Handball worldwide.  In response to such an accusation, we quickly searched the web for statistics about the popularity of team handball, and made an interesting discovery.  In addition to Team Handball, at least a dozen other sports had web sites which laid claim to the title of second most popular sport in the world.  

Of course, this couldn't be true.  Somebody had to be truly second, and the rest must be wrong!  We set out on a quest to find the truth. 

Methods:  First, we found every site on the web that made this bold statement, and sent an e-mail to every one, asking what their sources were, and what statistical information they based their claim on.  We received numerous replies, all to the extent of "I heard it somewhere", or "I've always been told that", or "I saw it on another website".   Not one webmaster could give us a shred of evidence that his/her claim was true.

So, not to be distraught, we asked the International Federations of each sport which was reputed to be the world's most or second-most popular just how many people were estimated to play their sport worldwide.   I've seen statistics based on most watched, or most money made, or most registered players, or most competition entries, but these all seem flawed.   We figure that participation is the best measure available of popularity, since the majority of the world doesn't have television, or money to attend sporting events.   The vast majority of people who play various sports don't register for teams, or compete in competitions either, such as in Basketball, Soccer, or Tennis, where many more people play just pickup games or recreationally.

The results are shown below.  Estimates are directly from the International Sports Federations themselves.  The Number of Affiliated National Federations comes from the International Olympic Committee.  Only the sports who laid claim to the title of most or second-most popular were included in the study.  I left out Auto Racing/F1, who for obvious reasons won't even be comparable in participation numbers to the rest of the sports involved.  For your inormation, though, the FIA has 119 affiliated national federations.

Sport

2002 Estimates of Participants Worldwide

Number of Affiliated National Federations

Volleyball

998 Million

218

Basketball

400 Million

211

Table Tennis

300 Million

186

Soccer

242 Million

204

Badminton

200 Million

147

Tennis

60 Million

191

Baseball

60 Million

110

Dragon Boat Racing

50 Million

51

Team Handball

18 Million

147

Hockey

3 million

118

Judo

2.5 Million

187

Rugby

2 Million

97

Cycling

600,000

160

Bocce

Pending

72

Cricket

Pending

74

Some other interesting facts as stated by the federations are as follows:

  • Formula One Racing has the largest television viewing audience in the world with just the Formula One championship bringing in 40 billion viewers annually.  Considering there are only 6 Billion people in the world, less than half with television sets, and only a fraction of those caring about Formula One racing, that's quite a few...  When questioned, the FIA did not respond.

  • FIBA claims over 400 million people play basketball in the world, or one in every twelve men, women, and children, and senior citizens (over 500 million worldwide).  This seems a little odd...  When questioned, FIBA did not respond.  The Jr. NBA states that they feel that the number is "a little high".

  • FIVB claims nearly 1billion people play volleyball in the world.  One out of every six people.  That's really interesting...  When questioned, they backed off that statement to say that there are 33 million registered players, but that there are many more than that who are recreational players (obviously, but not 1 billion...).  They also stated that there are definitely not four times the amount of volleyball players as soccer players in the world, which basically refuted their initial statement.

 


 

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