Sports are an essential part of our lives. Sports provide us with exercise, a means of team-building, and a way of unifying people all over the world. Sports are a great way to meet new friends and form strong bonds.
While it may not be apparent in the United States, association football (soccer) is the most popular sport in the world. Soccer is king in virtually all of Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and Asia. There are about 3.5 billion soccer fans worldwide and 250 million players across 200 countries around the world. The next most popular sports in the world are cricket (2.5 billion fans), basketball (2.2 billion fans), and field hockey (2 billion).
In the United States, the most popular sport is American football. Football is one of the most-watched sports in the U.S. and has about 390 million to 410 million fans worldwide, the majority of which are in the U.S. American football’s league is the National Football League (NFL), consisting of 32 teams divided equally by the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference. A regular season is 17 weeks long, where each team plays 16 games and has one bye week.
Canada’s most popular sport is ice hockey. Ice hockey originated in Montreal and is the official national winter sport of Canada. The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) was formed in 1975 and represents the three Canada-based major junior hockey leagues. The three member leagues are the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. There are 60 teams total; 52 represent nine Canadian provinces, and eight teams represent four American states. The Memorial Cup is the CHL’s top award for the championship team. Canadian hockey teams also participate in the National Hockey League (NHL), the U.S.’s hockey league, to compete for the Stanley Cup. These teams are the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and Vancouver Canucks.
The most popular sport in Mexico is association football/soccer. Men’s association football has been played professionally in Mexico since the early 1900s, and the Mexican Federation of Soccer was founded in 1927. The first women’s professional football league in the country was announced in December 2016 and played their first season the following year. Since then, Mexico’s national football team first played in the World Cup in 1930 and has participated in 16 World Cups. The Mexico national football team plays its home games at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The Caribbean islands are mixed between baseball, soccer, and cricket.
Association football is the most popular sport in the majority of European countries, with some exceptions. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) is the administrative body for association football, futsal, and beach soccer in Europe and consists of 55 national association members. UEFA is one of the six continental confederations of world football’s governing body, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association or International Federation of Association Football). UEFA represents the national associations of Europe and runs national and club competitions such as the EUFA European Champions, UEGA Champions League, UEFA Nations League, UEFA Europa League, and UEFA Super Cup.
In Austria and Estonia, the most popular sport is skiing. In Latvia and Lithuania, basketball is king, while ice hockey is the most popular in Finland. In Ireland, Gaelic football is the most popular sport.
Association football is also the most popular sport in most Asian countries. The exceptions to this are table tennis being king in China, archery in Bhutan, kickboxing in Laos and Cambodia, and basketball in the Philippines. The most popular sport in Mongolia is wrestling.
The most popular sport in the Indian subcontinent (India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh) is cricket. Cricket is one of the few aspects of Indian life that unites the whole country. India and Pakistan are the leading cricket rivals in the subcontinent. The first recorded match in India was in 1721, and India became the sixth member of the “elite club” alongside England, Australia, South Africa, the West Indies, and New Zealand in 1932. India’s inaugural match with England attracted 24,000 people. India recorded its first victory in 1952, the same year that Pakistan joined the club. Two years later, Pakistan had their first victory against England.
Since then, cricket has been a religion for those on the Indian subcontinent. The Indian-Pakistan rivalry creates some of the most anticipated matches and the most-watched television broadcasts in India.
The most popular sport in Japan is baseball. American Horace Wilson first introduced baseball to Japan in 1872, and the first professional competitions emerged in the 1920s. The first Japanese professional league formed in 1936 and grew large enough to divide into two leagues by 1950: the Central League and the Pacific League. The professional league is known as Nippon Professional Baseball for Puro Yakyū (“professional baseball”). Baseball in Japan is slightly different from Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States, including a smaller ball, strike zone, and playing field, and game lengths are limited with ties allowed. High school baseball is also extremely popular in Japan. More than 50,000 people watch the national High School Baseball Championship in person at Koshien Stadium, and millions more watch it on television.
Central and South America
The most popular sport in Australia is Australian rules football. Australian football is a contact sport played by two teams, each with 18 players. The game is played on an oval-shaped field with an oval-shaped ball to kick the ball between two goalposts. The Australian Football League (AFL) is the sport’s only fully professional competition and is Australia’s wealthiest sporting body. The AFL Grand Final has the highest attendance of any club championship in the world.