What is the second most watched sport in the world?
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.