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Home arrow News arrow Most Popular Sports by Country, Continent, and World in 2024

Most Popular Sports by Country, Continent, and World in 2024

Dr. Donika Vata
Written by Donika Vata, MD
HR_author_photo_Edna
Fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
Last update: January 3, 2024
18 min read 1108 Views 0 Comments
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Sports played with a ball or puck generate the most attention, but some continents and countries have particular preferences. Find out what sports people love the most around the world.

most popular sports by country

What do the world’s most popular sports have in common? They’re all team sports. They’re all played with a ball – except for one that is, which is played with a puck. And that ball is often kicked, thrown, or hit in one way or another.

But while sports like soccer, basketball, or tennis have captivated the world, some countries hold dear local variants like Gaelic football or Australian football.

Join us on a world tour to discover the most popular sports by country. We’ll also see what sports are the most popular on each continent and which have attracted the most players and followers. Some findings may surprise you.

Read on to discover the most popular sports by country.

Most Popular Sports by Country

Association football or soccer is by far the most popular sport in the world. It’s the most popular sport in no less than 155 countries, including North Korea, Togo, Suriname, Syria, and the Solomon Islands.1

Association football or soccer is the most popular sport in 155 countries worldwide
Health Reporter edit

It’s no surprise that World Cup matches hold the entire planet spellbound, and clubs trade top players for hundreds of millions of dollars.2

While top professional soccer matches are played in modern stadiums that seat tens of thousands of people, association football is, at its core, a simple sport. Kids around the world play it on streets, in backyards, or in parks with little more than a ball and makeshift posts.

The second most popular sport in the world is cricket. In fact, it’s the most popular sport in 13 countries. The sport’s large following in the Indian subcontinent, and especially in India and Pakistan, account for a large share of its popularity.

RankingCountryPopulationMost Popular Sport
1China1,413,142,846Basketball
2India1,399,179,585Cricket
3United States334,994,511American football
4Indonesia279,476,346Soccer
5Pakistan247,653,551Cricket
6Nigeria230,842,743Soccer
7Brazil218,689,757Soccer
8Bangladesh167,184,465Cricket
9Russia141,698,923Soccer
10Mexico129,875,529Soccer

Summary of the most popular sports by country in the world’s 10 most populous nations.4

Baseball is also one of the most popular sports in the world, topping the charts in 9 countries. These include Cuba, Japan, and Panama.

Next up, basketball is the most popular sport in 7 countries, including China, the world’s most populous country. Rugby is also the most popular sport in 7 countries, although in some smaller nations such as Fiji, Tonga, and New Caledonia.

Ice hockey isn’t a craze only in Canada, where the National Hockey League originated.3 It’s also the most popular sport in two other countries with cold climates: Finland and Latvia.

A few sports top the charts in just one country – can you guess which just by their names? American football, Australian football, Gaelic football, and Mongolian wrestling. If you’re thinking of the United States, Australia, Ireland, and Mongolia, you’re spot on.

Meanwhile, archery is the most popular sport in Bhutan, while Guadeloupeans would rather windsurf than play soccer.

The island of Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, is the only country in the world where a form of racing is the most popular sport, and it doesn’t involve cars – it’s boat racing.

And here is a complete list of the most popular sports in every country in the world for which we have data:

Most Popular Sports on Each Continent

Soccer is the most popular sport on 4 of the 6 continents and has significant followings on the others. 

But soccer isn’t the only sport that brings together people from different cultures. Sports like basketball, cricket, rugby, and baseball are widely played around the world.

That said, some continents are very particular about the sports they like. Both Americans and Australians love football, but each has embraced local variants.

So, what is the most popular sport on each continent? Here are the top three.

#1 Soccer is the most popular sport in Europe

Top three sports in Europe - 1. Soccer 2. Basketball 3. Cycling
Health Reporter edit

Mention the word “soccer,” and many Europeans will roll their eyes. Their favorite sport is called “football,” they’ll say.

Association football, that is, modern football, originated in Britain in the 19th century.5 It was in the 20th century, though, that soccer took off. Soccer is played both at national and international levels and across continental and intercontinental cups.The FIFA World Cup held every 4 years has overtaken the Olympics to become the world’s biggest sporting event in terms of viewership.6

The richest and most powerful soccer leagues are in Europe. The Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany), and Ligue 1 (France) have long surpassed geographical bounds to become popular around the world.

The crème de la crème in terms of club football is the UEFA Champions League. The annual competition features the best European clubs that compete for the supreme European club title.

Europeans love sports, and it’s hard to say what sports come second and third in popularity after soccer. Handball, rugby, ice hockey, and volleyball are widely followed. 

But when it comes to team sports other than soccer, basketball is popular across Europe. National leagues and continental cups and championships like the Euroleague, FIBA Champions League, and EuroCup Basketball contribute to basketball’s popularity.

Individual sports also generate a lot of attention in Europe. Cycling, motorsport, tennis, and golf enjoy huge followings. All the major cycling events are held in Europe, including The Tour de France, La Vuelta in Spain, and Giro D’Italia in Italy.

#2 Soccer has overtaken cricket to become the most popular sport in Asia

Top three sports in Asia - 1. Soccer 2. Cricket 3. Basketball
Health Reporter edit

According to soccer’s world governing body, La Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the Chinese played a game similar to soccer over 2,000 years ago.7

It was called cuju (kickball in Chinese), and, like soccer, it involved kicking a ball. But despite the sport’s rich history, it wasn’t until the last few decades that soccer overtook cricket to become Asia’s most popular sport.

Cricket continues to be the most popular sport in India and Pakistan, though soccer has plenty of fans in these countries.

So far, The Democratic Republic of China seems not to succumb to soccer fever. Basketball remains the main sport in China.Other popular sports in Asia include baseball (the most popular sport in Japan), badminton, and ping pong. Asian countries dominate total Olympic medal standings in badminton and ping pong.8, 9

#3 North America: The biggest sport in the New World is American football

Top three sports in North America - 1. American Football 2. Baseball 3. Basketball
Health Reporter edit

Unlike their European peers who’d rather kick a ball, Americans don’t think there’s anything wrong with catching a ball and running with it to the touchline.

Played with an oval ball across a field 100 yards wide and 53.3 yards wide, American football evolved out of soccer and rugby. American football is the most popular sport in North America, hands down.10 

Ask Canadians, however, and they will proudly answer ice hockey. Canada is larger than the US by size, but the US has a population almost ten times larger, so we’re going with American football.11

The National Football League (NFL) is the biggest sports league in the world by revenue.12 

NFL sponsorship contracts are some of the most lucrative in the sports industry. NFL teams also play in some of the world’s largest and most expensive stadiums.

After American football, basketball is North America’s second most popular sport. The National Basketball League (NBA) is one of the world’s largest sports leagues by revenue, behind only the NFL and Major League Baseball.

This takes us to the sport that claims the third spot in popularity in North America – baseball. Looking back at the rich history of the sport in the US, baseball has been America’s favorite sport for decades.

While no longer the national sport,13 baseball remains popular with Baby Boomers. Around 65% of people born between 1946 and 1964 continue to follow it.14

Soccer may not make it into the top three in North America, but it’s certainly close, at least because of Mexico, where it is the most popular sport.

#4 South Americans adore soccer

Top three sports in South America - 1. Soccer 2. Baseball 3. Basketball
Health Reporter edit

South Americans may be even crazier about soccer than Europeans. They also boast some of the most successful teams in international soccer competitions. Argentina is the reigning World Cup champion.

Meanwhile, arch-rival Brazil remains the nation with the most WC trophies – 5. More than a sport, football is a cause for national pride in Brazil.

From Pele to Messi, some of the game’s greatest players have come from South America.

When South Americans aren’t playing soccer, they are likely to play its variations – futsal, beach soccer, and footvolley. All of these have been invented in South America.

The second most popular sport after soccer and its variations in South America is up for debate. Baseball is a likely candidate as it’s the most popular sport in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. 

Many players from South America play in the US Major League Baseball, the sport’s most prestigious competition.

The third most popular sport in South America is probably basketball. The sport has a strong tradition in Brazil and Argentina, both countries having won the World Championship in the past.

#5 Soccer is in the hearts of most Africans more than other sports

Top three sports in Africa - 1. Soccer 2. Athletics 3. Rugby
Health Reporter edit

Soccer again. Africans love soccer, and the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa, the first to be played on African soil, only heightened the sport’s popularity on the African continent.

From South Africa to Morocco in the North and from Senegal in the West to Somalia on the East coast of Africa, Africans have embraced soccer as their favorite sport. Every two years, African nations dispute the continental crown in the African Cup of Nations.

Athletics, and especially running, are another beloved sport in Africa. The African continent has given the world multiple world champions and Olympic medalists.

Some famous names include marathonist Eliud Kipchoge, holder of the World Record, javelin-thrower Julius Yego, middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, and triple jumper and long jumper Hugues Fabrice Zango.

Rugby is another major sport in Africa, particularly in South Africa, which ties New Zealand for most WC titles (3). It has been called the fastest-growing sport in Africa.15

Apart from South Africa, it has a large following in Kenya, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Madagascar.

Another popular sport in Africa that more than deserves mention is wrestling. An integral part of many African cultures, wrestling is widely practiced in Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, and Ghana.

#6 Australians like to play football according to their own rules

Top three sports in Australia - 1. Australian Football 2. Cricket 3. Rugby
Health Reporter edit

The most popular sport on the Australian continent is Australian rules football, or Australian football for short. Similar to Gaelic football, it’s played with a rugby ball on a cricket-like oval field. 

In an intense game requiring strong athletic skills, players score by kicking the ball between four goalposts. Tackles can be tough – players wear no pads.

Australia has a long-standing tradition with cricket, which remains a popular sport on the continent. The country’s men’s team is considered the most successful in test cricket.

Another popular sport Australians are very good at is rugby. The Australian men’s rugby team is the 2019 world champion, having defeated England in the final.

Top 10 Most Popular Sports in the World by Participation

When it comes to the most popular sports by the number of players, the data is somewhat partial and limited. That said, estimates of the most popular sports in the world between 1930 and 2020 shed some insight into the most played sports globally.16

Most of these sports are team sports, but not all. Three of the sports in this top are individual sports – though tennis can also be played in doubles.

If you’ve been with us so far, the sport that tops this ranking isn’t likely to surprise you. But some of the other entrants may.

RankingSportEstimated number of players
1Soccer1.2+ billion
2Volleyball800 million
3Basketball 450 million
4Table tennis350 million
5Tennis86 million
6Golf66+ million
7Baseball and softball65 million
8Cricket30+ million
9Ice and field hockey30 million
10Rugby9+ million

#1 Soccer – 1.2+ billion players

While not the most popular sport in North America, soccer is the most played sport on all the other continents, with Antarctica being the only icy exception. 

There are around 240 million registered players and at least a billion other amateur players.17

There are around 240 million registered soccer players worldwide
Health Reporter edit

Once a men’s sport, soccer has been rapidly growing in popularity among female players. According to FIFA, there are 29 million women and girls playing football worldwide. By 2026, this number is expected to grow to 60 million.18

#2 Volleyball – 800 million players

Coming in second on the list of the world’s most beloved sports with 800 million players,19 modern volleyball has a long tradition going back to 1895.20

According to the International Volleyball Association (FIVB), the game has “witnessed unprecedented growth in the last two decades.”

Whether indoors in Lithuania or at the beach in Brazil, people enjoy volleyball around the world.

#3 Basketball – 450 million players

An estimated 450 million people around the world play basketball.21 This sport is popular in countries as culturally and geographically different as the United States and China.

Outdoor basketball courts with hoops are a regular feature in outdoor parks and other outdoor playing spaces around the globe. 

Dynamic and fun, basketball calls for plenty of movement and precision.

#4 Table tennis – 350 million players

An estimated 350 million people around the world play table tennis.22 The sport continues to be extremely popular in Asia. It also has a significant following in Europe. More recently, it has also gained popularity in the United States.

Table tennis is the 4th most popular sport in the world by participation
Health Reporter edit

In Europe, it’s not uncommon to see tables for this sport set up in parks where people can play it with their own paddles and balls.

#5 Tennis – 86 million players

Tennis is the world’s most popular outdoor individual sport, ahead of golf. An estimated 87 million players worldwide enjoy it.23

Played in singles or doubles across different courts, from clay to grass, tennis may not be the easiest sport to start with. But it can be super fun and provides a thorough cardio workout.

What’s more, tennis helps you burn more calories than playing soccer, swimming, or running.

#6 Golf­ – 66+ million players

Some may regard golf as an elite sport played by the rich on expensive fields, but an estimated 66.6 million people around the world play it.24

Golf may not be the fastest of sports. But it requires concentration, precision, control, and patience. It encourages players to spend time outdoors and can be played at an advanced age. This, at least in part, explains its popularity.

#7 Baseball and softball – 65 million players

Baseball may no longer be America’s number one sport, but it’s still played by millions of players around the globe. More specifically, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) cites 65 million players worldwide.25

Modern baseball originated in the early 1800s, making it one of the oldest sports in the world. Softball is played on a smaller field with a larger ball, making it more accessible to some people than baseball.

#8 Cricket – 30 million players

Cricket is the main sport in India, one of the world’s most populous countries. It’s also big in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

Cricket is the 8th most popular sport in the world by participation
Health Reporter edit

Data about the total number of cricket players worldwide is short, but there appear to be at least 30 million players.26 Most of these players seem to be located in Asia.

The number of professional cricket players is relatively small compared to the huge number of people who follow the sport.

#9 Ice and field hockey – 30 million players

An estimated 30 million people play ice hockey around the world.27 Considering that hockey requires an ice rink, the sport’s popularity proves the devotion of its players.

Ice hockey may be the national sport in Canada and popular in several northern countries and states, but its reach goes beyond these.

In warmer climates, hockey players often trade the ice rink for a grass field. Field hockey has an estimated 1.46 million players in the United States alone.28 While field hockey doesn’t enjoy as much coverage as ice hockey, it remains a notable sport.

#10 Rugby – 9+ million players

Rugby is physically demanding, but 9.6 million people around the world play it at all professional levels.29 What’s more, female rugby player registrations have increased substantially in recent years.

Rugby is the most popular sport in New Zealand and big in Australia, Fiji, and parts of Europe. Many players dream of taking part in events like the Six Nations League and the Rugby World Cup.

Top 10 Most Watched Sports in the World

In general, the most popular sports also tend to be the most watched. However, there are some notable exceptions.

Some cycling events, for example, attract more media attention than sports with larger followings.

Let’s take a closer look at the sporting events that attract the largest audiences.

RankingSportAudience
1Soccer3.5+ billion
2Athletics3+ billion
3Cycling2.2 billion
4Cricket1.6 billion
5Tennis1 billion
6Table tennis350 million
7American football200 million
8Basketball150+ million
9Baseball80+ million
10Volleyball50+ million

#1 Soccer – 3.5+ billion viewers

Soccer’s most watched competition, the FIFA World Cup (WC), reached a peak audience of close to 1.5 billion viewers during the 2022 final between France and Argentina.30

That’s a far cry from medieval soccer, which would be played in cramped quarters using the inflated bladder of a pig inflated for a ball.31

3.4 million spectators watched the 64 games of the WC from inside the stadiums in Qatar, according to the same source.

3.4 million spectators watched the 64 FIFA World Cup
Health Reporter edit

FIFA hasn’t said yet just how many people watched the 2022 WC. But the numbers may be even higher than the 3.5 billion people who watched the 2018 WC in Russia.

#2 Athletics – 3+ billion viewers

An estimated 3.05 billion viewers tuned in to watch the latest edition of the Olympic Games held in Tokyo in 2021.32 The Olympic Games bring together 40 sports, not all of them athletics.

With that in mind, it’s the most important stage for athletic events such as running, jumping, and throwing, so many of these viewers would have watched athletic contests.

#3 Cycling – 2.2 billion viewers

The main event in cycling, the Tour de France, involves racing between male cyclists over three weeks across some of France’s most beautiful countryside.

While not all estimates of Tour de France viewership seem realistic, data suggests 2.2 billion viewers may have watched at least 20 minutes of the competition.33 

The Tour de France is the main event in cycling
Health Reporter edit

Not all of these viewers may be diehard fans. But this doesn’t take away from the sport’s attraction.

Good to know: Cycling is a good way to burn fat, lose weight, and improve body shape

#4 Cricket – 1.6 billion viewers

Cricket is the most popular sport among sports fans in India and Pakistan. According to the International Cricket Council, a total of 1.6 billion people watched the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019.34

This made the competition the most-watched event in cricket history. The 2024 WC is likely to exceed this number.

#5 Tennis – 1+ billion viewers

At the highest professional level, tennis is played in the ATP (male) and WTA (female) tours. Over 970 million people watch ATP events,35 and 700 million people watch WTA events.36

We don’t know how many of these viewers watch both events. But it’s more than likely that over 1 billion people watch professional tennis.

#6 Table tennis – 350+ million viewers

At the Tokyo Olympic Games, ping pong, as the sport is also known, amassed the largest audience of all sports in China – 350 million viewers.37 

Add to that the viewership in other Asian countries and Europe, and the sport deserves a place among one of the world’s most watched sports.

#7 American football – 200 million viewers

The NFL estimates that around 200 million people watched the Super Bowl LVII.38 That’s around 60% of people in the United States, making it the most popular sports event in the country.

60 of people in the United States watched
Health Reporter edit

The NFL consists of 32 teams split over two conferences. After an 18-week regular season, 7 teams from each conference advance to the playoffs on the road to the Super Bowl.

#8 Basketball – 150+ million viewers

We don’t have exact numbers for how many people watch basketball, a very popular sport in the US and the most popular sport in China. 

But the regular NBA season had an average of 1.59 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, and TNT during the 2022-2023 season.39

The regular season has a total of 1,230 games. Add the playoffs and viewers from other countries, and NBA basketball probably enjoys a total of 150+ million viewers.

#9 Baseball – 80+ million viewers

Even though MLS attendance has been declining, 68.5 million people attended MLS baseball games during the regular 2019 season.40 

Fast forward to 2022, and 11.8 million viewers watched the 2022 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies.41

#10 Volleyball – 50+ million viewers

Volleyball is among the world’s more popular sports. So it should come as a surprise that the Indian Prime Volleyball League 2022 alone enjoyed 41 million viewers.42

Volleyball doesn’t get as much TV coverage as other sports. But add competitions around the world, including the Olympics, and it’s reasonable to assume that at least 50+ million people watch the sport.

FAQs

What is the most popular sport in the world?

Association football, or soccer for short, is the most popular sport in 155 countries around the world. It’s the reigning sport on most continents.

What is the most-watched sport in the US?

The most-watched sport in the US is American football. According to a Gallup poll,43 American football has more viewers in the US than basketball, baseball, soccer, ice hockey, auto racing, tennis, and golf combined.

What is the most popular sport in Europe?

Association football is by far the most popular sport in Europe. Most of the top professional association football players play for European teams.

What are the most popular sports in Spanish-speaking countries?

From Spain to Argentina and from Mexico to Peru, association football is the most popular sport in Spanish-speaking countries. Other popular sports in the Spanish-speaking world include baseball, basketball, boxing, tennis, and cycling.

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Written by Donika Vata, MD
Dr. Donika Vata is a highly accomplished MD whose extensive experience in the healthcare industry spans over 5 years, making her a distinguished Medical Writer and Researcher for the esteemed Health Reporter. Notably, she also holds the role of a General Practice Doctor and has rendered her exceptional patient care services in various clinics worldwide.
The article was fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
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Dr. Donika Vata
Written by Donika Vata, MD
HR_author_photo_Edna
Fact checked by Edna Skopljak, MD
Last update: January 3, 2024
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