What is the second most watched sport in the world?

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2011-03-11 02:45:32




At least a dozen sports have web sites which lay 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


Here is one person's quest to find a definitive answer:

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


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


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 1 billion 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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