The 10 most popular sports in the United Kingdom

by Polly in Sports

March 27, 2024

8 minutes to read

Sports play a massive role in societies worldwide, and the United Kingdom (UK) is no different. It brings people together, whether to witness a great sporting occasion or as an everyday activity to be enjoyed by participants and spectators alike.

Sporting events have several positive spin-offs, the most obvious being the level of physical fitness required to compete at a high level and the health benefits of maintaining that level of activity.

Popular events on the sporting calendar have a social effect, too. That of bringing people together, such as the large crowds that gather around the UK each week to witness football matches.

These sporting spectacles, attended by crowds of enthusiasts, engenders a camaraderie amongst people. Sport is the key ingredient spectators have in common, leading to many lifelong friendships and marriages.

Positive impact on the social fabric of society

Sports can have a significant impact on the fabric of society in several ways.

  • Social connection: Sport can help people connect with communities and foster a sense of community. It can also help break down stereotypes, prejudices and cultural differences.
  • Social identity: Sports can reflect and influence a society’s values, culture, and identity. It can also offer a national identity and unite countries nationally and internationally.
  • Social change: Sports can help address and raise awareness of critical societal issues and provide a platform for dialogue, education and advocacy on various social topics. For example, it can help overcome differences, encourage dialogue, and help break down prejudice, stereotypes, cultural differences, ignorance, intolerance, and discrimination.

A great example is the Say No to Racism campaign promoted by the Premier League in the UK, the best-supported and most highly regarded, not to mention the most influential sporting league globally.

  • Self-esteem: Sports can help boost self-esteem for the younger generation, and with low self-esteem seen as a driver regarding many social ills amongst young people, the positives are self-evident.
  • Social order: Functionalist Theory examines how sport fits into and maintains the social order and illustrates important societal norms.

The UK, with a population of over 68 million, has a rich sporting heritage. Many sports originate there, and most of the population across the age spectrum enjoys sports as it is deeply ingrained in the country’s culture and tradition and across society. The passion for sports is immense.

The UK has a packed sporting calendar, with a diverse range of sports to enjoy throughout the year. Sports are usually seasonally based, specifically Winter sports like Rugby and Football and Summer sports like Tennis and Cricket.

The most popular sports in the UK are Football, Cricket, Rugby, Tennis and Golf. Let us take a look at the top 10 most popular sports in the United Kingdom as defined by fan numbers - the clearest indicator of popularity level.

1. Football

Football has by far the largest fan base of any sport in the UK, with some 25 million followers of the various teams across the footballing divisions that comprise the Football Association (FA).

Football clubs are an integral part of UK culture, as these clubs are symbols for local communities and have a deep-rooted connection with fans throughout Britain and the world. There is no more popular league in the world than the Premier League, which makes the fact that football is the most popular sport in the UK, unsurprising.

Approximately 40% of the UK population watches football on a regular basis, and England has produced some of the greatest players of all time, such as Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Bobby Moore, Sir George Best and the ever-popular and iconic David Beckham.

According to the FA, some 11 million people are involved in playing football in the UK; the figures for those taking part as spectators could be better at best, but regular attendance at stadiums throughout Britain has remained steady.

England also showcases its most popular sport in the form of the Emirates FA Cup, the world’s oldest and arguably most loved footballing cup competition, whilst the popularity of the Premier League and the UEFA Champions League show no signs of waning.

The year-on-year increase in the vast sums spent on the transfer market remains impressive, along with the amounts paid to the various clubs with respect to broadcast rights and huge sponsorship deals.

Competition in the Premier League remains strong, retaining spectator interest in the main contenders for the title, namely, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. This has been good for football, as the strong competition amongst these three key teams in the Premier League brings together different cities and regions of the country: London, Liverpool and Manchester.

Football is certain to remain a growth industry in the United Kingdom, along with its fanbase.

2. Cricket

Cricket is considered England’s truly national game and is the second most popular sport in the UK.

Approximately 18% of the UK population watch live cricket at various grounds around the UK, whilst 2% actively participate in the game.

There are over 20 clubs and thousands of cricket teams in the UK. The England Cricket Board (ECB) states that while the number of those participating in cricket has decreased, it remains popular, with over 16 million fans of the sport, many of whom follow the England team to competitions around the world.

These most notably include the various forms of the World Cup, remembering The Ashes, which is one of the most closely followed cricketing events in the world.

3. Rugby union & rugby league

Rugby is another of the UK’s Mainstream sports, with some 12 million followers. The primary international competitions involving the home nations are the 6 Nations and the World Cup.

The club rugby scene is alive, well and ever-popular in the UK, drawing many of the world’s finest players to British shores.

Rugby occupies the third spot in the list of most popular sports in the UK, as it is fun to play and watch. It has been shown to strengthen relationships and foster friendship amongst players, typically between 16 and 29 years old.

Rugby is a growing sport across the UK, and the number of avid fans is expected to grow in the coming years.

Besides England, which won the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and was a runner in 2007 and 2019, Scotland and Wales also have a rich rugby heritage and a deep love for the sport.

4. Golf

Golf is one of the most popular sports in the world, and its fan and player base ensures it occupies the fourth spot in the UK’s most popular sports list, proving particularly popular amongst older age groups.

England and Scotland have around 3,000 registered golf courses, the most famous being Royal St. Andrews in Scotland.

Golf is estimated to have an average of 4,8 million participants across the UK. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have over 1 million registered golf players.

5. Athletics

Athletics is also rooted in British culture, much like Cricket and Football, with over 150,000 Brits participating in Athletics each month. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the sport fills the number 5 spot in popularity.

Athletics also has an economic impact on the UK economy, boosting the economy substantially by an estimated £25 million.

6. Horse racing

Horse Racing, also known as the Sport of Kings, is one of the most popular sports in the United Kingdom, with 6 million fans.

The equine industry employs over 100,000 people, and the UK hosts thousands of horse racing events throughout the year, drawing millions of fans from around the world and generating huge sums of money, contributing more than £3.4 billion to the economy each year.

The Grand National is the UK’s most famous horse racing event and is unparalleled in the equine world in terms of drawing national and international fans.

7. Tennis

British people of all age groups have a great passion for tennis. Wimbledon, the world’s premier tennis tournament, is the most significant drawcard for participants and spectators in the tennis world and has been an integral part of the UK sports scene since 1877.

An estimated 12% of the UK population, the equivalent of 3 million people of all ages, participate in tennis in the UK.

8. Boxing

Boxing has a huge appeal with millions of fans across Britain. Much of the sport's appeal is the unpredictability of the outcome, but it is also trendy and connects people through emotions.

While boxing participation has declined in the UK, the sport has retained its popularity amongst the British public as a spectator sport, with many international tournaments across the UK.

Boxing was previously in the Top 5 most popular sports in the UK.

9. Swimming

Swimming is an extremely popular pastime in the UK, with over 2 million enjoying the cardiovascular workout benefits of the sport.

Competitive swimming is growing in popularity in the UK, with increased participation at club, school and university levels.

10. Rowing

Rowing is an elite sport in the UK. Still, it is highly popular as a spectator sport and gaining in popularity among middle-class Brits, with an increasing number of teams participating in university and national tournaments.

The Oxford versus Cambridge race is one of England’s most prestigious sporting events. This annual event gripped the imagination of spectators, spurring them to join the UK’s 550 rowing clubs, resulting in 300,000 Brits actively participating in this ever-popular sport.

Article by Polly

CasinoWow Contributor

Hey guys, my name is Polina but my friends and colleagues call me Polly. I am truly passionate about online casino gaming and exploring the different online gambling experiences. I'm really into diving deep into topics and researching all the details. My aim is to gather the best information and write interesting articles for all the readers at CasinoWow.

Anything incorrect or missing?

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