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What’s the Most Popular Sport in the World?

Much has been written on this subject and the question has never been definitively settled.

The problem is how to define popular. Analysts based their ratings on various criteria such as most watched, most played, most commented, most revenue generating, largest TV audience, number of stadiums and facilities worldwide, tournaments held and goods sold. Because so many criteria were used, many lists of the most popular sports were published. However, the problem is made easier by the fact that football is often in the lead, regardless of the criteria used.

A 2001 survey by the International Football Federation (FIFA) shows that more than 240 million people play the sport in more than 200 countries around the world.

Football is older than most other games. Its origin dates back 3000 years in ancient China where a game was played with a ball of animal skins stuffed with hair or feathers which was hit between 10 meter high poles and used for military training. . Evidence from other ancient Greek, Maya, and Egyptian societies shows that kicking games like football were played in these cultures. The modern game as we know it began in the 19th century in England and the London Football Association was formed in 1863 which established the first set of rules.

Football spread very easily. It started in a country known for its culture and systems and for the ownership of an empire and it was easily exported.

Today, football is the highest paying professional team sport. The prize money for winning the 2010 World Cup was $30 million (World’s Most Popular Sport – Most Popular Sports.net). The World Cup is the most watched sporting event; 715.1 million people watched the 2006 World Cup final in Germany (The Real Truth: World Cup: Why Soccer Is So Popular Around The World by Cliff Potter, July 10, 2010).

The game is played in teams and each team has 11 players. The idea is that a team tries to score goals by knocking the ball between the opponent’s goal posts through a combination of passing and dribbling. Pushing, shoving or defending by knocking down opponents is a foul. In the end, the team that scores the most goals wins.

Football is very popular because it has certain attractions that appeal to both men and women, young and old:

First of all, its simplicity is appealing. All you need to play is a ball. There are no monetary barriers and it can be played on any surface, on the neighborhood street, at the beach or in the park. It offers hope for children, especially in developing countries, to use as a stepping stone to a better life. They can play a sport practiced by their heroes, which increases the popularity of the game.

Second, football is a team sport. Up to 22 people can play in a match. It promotes team spirit and unites around a common goal.

Football also creates team rivalries and passion. Football has some of the most intense international rivalries such as between Argentina and Brazil, England and Germany and the United States and Mexico, and intense derbies such as between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Argentina, Manchester City and Manchester United in England and Real Madrid. and Barcelona in Spain.

Third, football stimulates national pride. It is a dream to play for your country and people are more proud of their country when the national team is successful. For example in Colombia, when the national team faces both sides in the civil war, lay down your arms for 90 minutes and cheer on their team. On the other hand, this pride can be taken to the other extreme, so in 1969 El Salvador and Honduras went to war over a soccer game (called the Soccer War).

Fourth, few countries have another viable sport to rival soccer.

Finally, football is a good investment if you can get a team that goes far. This is why 5 billion dollars are spent by European clubs to buy the best talents available (Why is football not popular in the United States? By Steve McCarthy, March 23, 2009). The goal is to win trophies which in turn bring big prizes.

There are different types of football namely futsal or indoor football and beach football which help to broaden its appeal. And there is women’s football which has developed since the 1990s and which also organizes World Cup competitions.

It is also worth mentioning that in most lists of the most popular sports, cricket often ranks second. This is surprising as it is only played in British Commonwealth countries mainly, Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, India and Pakistan.

Much has been written about why football has not become more popular in the United States. In my opinion, American sports fans are already preoccupied with their own sports like baseball, basketball, and American football, so there is no room left for another competing sport.

Despite the success of football as a global sport, it has not been without its problems:

In recent years, FIFA has been plagued by allegations of bribery, corruption scandals and resignations. Most notable are allegations against some senior officials of wrongdoing during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid campaigns.

Second, football has been taken over by commercialization. Recently, wealthy businessmen from Eastern Europe, America and the Middle East have taken over the best clubs and the best players. The desire to earn and make money has become the main focus with the associated issues related to the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Third, Europol (a European law enforcement agency) recently found evidence of match fixing in over 380 matches, including Champions League and World Cup qualifiers between 2008 and 2011. More a further 300 matches are under investigation, most of them outside Europe.

Finally, the good reputation of football is increasingly tainted by racism and racial abuse between players or by fans directed against players.

Added to this is the longstanding problem of violence in football, not only between rival supporters, but last week’s festivities by Paris Saint-Germain supporters in Paris celebrating their side’s league triumph were marred by outbursts of violence.

In conclusion, football has come a long way since it was first invented and has provided a lot of entertainment to millions of fans around the world. But the essence of the game is different these days. Today, gambling has become big business. It loses its authenticity and may eventually lose its popularity. Then football will no longer be “King”.

Victor A. Dixon

May 20, 2013

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