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The world’s most popular sports

Sports keep us fit, provide us with stories of victory and heartbreak, and create gladiators out of mere mortals. Which are the world’s five most popular sports? Who better than Sports Daily to run you through the list?


FIFA, the body that is responsible for soccer’s organization, currently has 18 more members than the United Nations, which goes some way toward showcasing how popular it is around the globe. The sport’s showpiece event, the FIFA World Cup, regularly attracts an audience of 700 million – around one-tenth of Earth’s population – while Europe’s biggest competition, the UEFA Champions League, is also broadcast to the televisions of millions across every continent.

Superclubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United transcend national boundaries, boasting fans of all ages and races, while the sport’s stars – Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar – are among the most marketable men on Earth. The women’s game has also grown exponentially since the 1990s, and the US holds the record for the most World Cup wins with three. Legend Pele certainly knew what he was talking about when he called soccer the Beautiful Game.


Even though the best teams are based in the United States, football has enjoyed increasing popularity around the world over the last decade or so. The Super Bowl has long been a national event over here, but its cultural impact has also been felt in other countries, and it is now the world’s number one sporting event in terms of brand value. Numerous betting sites have also been established around the world, and bookmakers can provide all the latest odds and sports news.

The New England Patriots of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have dominated the sport in recent years, winning five Super Bowls since 2002. This makes the Foxborough-based team the world’s sixth most valuable sports team, according to Forbes. The Dallas Cowboys, who haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1995, topped Forbes’ list in 2016, the first time a non-soccer club has been ranked as sport’s richest.


Professional golf is virtually a closed shop, with only the most talented and dedicated players able to compete for – and win – one of the sport’s four majors each year. Despite the rather sedate nature of the sport, with players taking up to four hours to complete an 18-hole round, golf attracts a huge television audience both in the United States and abroad. In fact, last year’s men’s Ryder Cup was the most-watched sporting event in the States after the Super Bowl.

What makes golf so popular, however, is the ease with which players can take it up. It is thought that there are around 25 million golfers in the US, making it one of the nation’s favorite pastimes. Even the President, Donald Trump, is an avid player, owning several golf courses in Scotland and regularly foregoing his presidential duties to enjoy a round at his Mar-a-Lago retreat.


Basketball was only invented in the 19th century, but it has quickly become a cultural staple in several countries around the globe. The American professional league, the NBA, generates around $5 billion a year in revenue, while European leagues containing Spanish, Turkish, Greek and Serbian teams are also increasing in standard all the time.

Like soccer, basketball is a sport that is popular with children on the street, who aim to follow in the footsteps of legends Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal or contemporary stars such as Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, who earn upwards of $50 million per year.


Although it has never quite caught on here in the States, cricket is the most popular sport in Asia and has a particularly fierce following in the countries of the Commonwealth, such as Australia, New Zealand and England. In India and Pakistan in particular, cricket is looked upon almost as a religion, with star players such as Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli revered as god-like in their home states. Attendance at matches can often top 100,000, especially at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens, and you’d struggle to find a residential street without a bat and ball.

For the last two decades, Australia has been the team to beat in both men’s and women’s Test and one-day cricket, although England, India and South Africa have all spent time at number one in the rankings. Cricket is growing in popularity around the world, with Ireland, Kenya, the Netherlands and Canada all making great strides in the ICC World Cup in recent years.

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