What Is the Most Played Sport in the World?

Sports equipment

It may be surprising to know, but it is incredibly difficult to ascertain just what are the most played sports in the world. The reason for this is that it is a much bigger task than it initially looks and there are countless ways that one could class players of a sport.

Taking soccer, for example, do you class players as those playing for an actual team? Or do you include the millions of people across the world that play for fun every day?

However, one such attempt at finding the world’s most popular sport has been done by a couple, known as Johann and Sandra, who contacted international federations of all major international sports who claimed to be one of the world’s most popular sports and asked them for estimates of how many people played their sports. The results of their survey can be seen on their website but we’ve listed the top five here:

  • 998 million - Volleyball
  • 400 million - Basketball
  • 300 million - Table Tennis
  • 242 million - Soccer
  • 200 million - Badminton

The results are somewhat surprising and we suspect that most people would disagree with them. The method they used for obtaining these figures is fundamentally flawed as asking international sport federations for an estimate of number of participants is not based on fact.

It could also be argued that it is in a federation’s interest to be more generous with their estimate as this would make their sport seen more popular than it actually is. Quite simply, volleyball cannot be more popular than soccer, a true global sport.

Thankfully, a more considered study has been done by the website mostpopularsports.net. Whilst there are no statistics on the actual numbers of people playing each game, what they’ve done is look the popularity of sports in some of the world’s most populous countries.

What we’ve done below is take some of their statistics and then also looked at the accessibility of sports to come up with what we think are the top three most played sports in the world.

Football (Soccer)

Football is the most popular sport in 57 countries across the globe. These include Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Germany and the UK. It is also in the top three favourite sports in 19 countries that include the world’s most populous country China, India and Turkey. Thanks to the size of the populations of the countries that football is popular in combined with the accessibility of the game (all you need is a ball to play), we think it is safe to assume that football is the most played sport in the world.


Although basketball is played around the world, many people associate it with being mainly played in the USA. This may lead them to assume that it may not be one of the most played sports in the world. However, this misses one important factor. Basketball is arguably the most popular sport in China and is played in schools and colleges across the country as well as there being countless amateur and professional leagues.

The sheer numbers of people playing in China when added to the popularity of the game elsewhere in the world (USA, Russia, Indonesia) leads us to conclude basketball is arguably the second most played sport in the world.


Cricket is the most popular sport in India which is the world’s second most populous country with an estimated 1.1 billion people. It’s also the most popular sport in Pakistan and Sri Lanka and is one of the top three favourite sports in the UK and Malaysia.

The popularity of cricket in these populous countries when combined with the accessibility of the game (it can be played with minimal equipment) means that we’re confident that cricket ranks as one of the world’s most played games.