Europeans love sport, however, the type of sport played from country to country can vary a lot. This article offers an analysis of the most popular sports in Europe.
Most Popular Sports in the United Kingdom
There are many diverse sports in the UK. The British Isles is the birthplace of football, Rugby League, Rugby Union, golf, cricket, tennis, field hockey, darts, snooker, rounders and badminton. All these sports are still popular throughout the UK.
Football in the UK
As expected, football is the most popular sport. Participation is very high, the FA state that almost 1 in 5 adults play football (5 a side or 11 a side) and 8.2m play throughout England. Throughout the whole of the UK, there are opportunities for adults, children, men, women and disabled people to partake in football.
The Premier League is the most-watched league in the world. With the recent success of the women’s team at an international level, the interest in football seems to be continuing to grow in the women’s game too. This is perhaps opening the game up to a new demographic as football has always been more popular with males than females.
Golf in the UK
Golf is played by young (8% of golfers are junior members) and old, male and female throughout the UK. The split between male and female is approx 85:15 in favour of males. There are 695,000 registered golfers in the UK and almost 2,000 courses, that’s by far the most courses anywhere in Europe. The British Open (Open Championship) is played in July every year and it has been hosted at different prestigious locations such as St. Andrews, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale. The Open is broadcast on terrestrial TV and very popular wherever you reside in the UK.
Rugby in the UK
Both Rugby League and Rugby Union are played, watched and searched for in the UK. Rugby Union is more popular throughout most of the UK, however, Rugby League is more popular in Yorkshire and Lancashire in England. For more information on rugby and why HIIT is training is so important for elite rugby players, take a look at our recent article Rugby HIIT Training: 5 ‘Weapons’ For Effective Workouts.
Rugby rules Wales
The top three most popular sports in the UK is a close battle and it actually depends on whereabouts in the UK you reside. Rugby Union is the most searched sport in Wales, ahead of both golf and football. In Northern Ireland, football is more popular than rugby but not as popular as golf. In Scotland and England, football is the most popular sport, golf is second and rugby is third.
Cricket in the UK
Cricket is actually the national sport of England and it is the number 1 summer sport throughout the UK. Overall, cricket is just behind the top three. Cricket struggles for much search volume during the winter, except during the Ashes if it’s in Australia (such as November 2017 – January 2018). Cricket is much more popular in England than it is in Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland. The men’s national team won the 2019 World Cup on home soil, which has led to a recent huge spike in popularity.
Boxing KO’s Tennis
Boxing pips the likes of tennis, F1, swimming, athletics, darts and snooker which are also popular. This is likely due to the success of so many British boxers recently i.e. Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Anthony Crolla, Chris Eubank Jr etc who have all been involved in big super fights. Although the UK does have great athletes from these other sports such as Andy Murray (tennis), Lewis Hamilton (F1), Adam Peaty (swimming) and Mo Farrah (athletics). The Brits tend to dominate darts (with The Netherlands) and snooker too. These sports tend to peak at certain points of the year, such as tennis peaks during Wimbledon fortnight (first two weeks of July). F1 peaks during the British F1 at Silverstone and athletics and swimming peak during the Olympics and have a slight uplift during the World Championships.
Most Popular Sports in the Republic of Ireland
- Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
- Horse racing
Football in Ireland
Football tops the list, many of Ireland’s best players have played in the English Premier League. These include Roy Keane, Robbie Keane and Liam Brady (who also played in Italy). Football is the most played and searched for in the Republic of Ireland.
Gaelic Football in Ireland
Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is made up of five different Irish sports, the most popular is Gaelic football closely followed by hurling (men only) and camogie (women only). The other two are rounders and Gaelic handball. Gaelic football is highly attended. The 86,000 all-seater stadium Croke Park is owned by GAA and fans regularly fill it. A study back in 2003 found that Gaelic football accounted for 34% of total sports attendances at events in the Republic of Ireland, followed by hurling at 23%, both ahead of football at 16% and rugby at 8%.
Golf in Ireland
Golf, like in the United Kingdom is played throughout by people of all different ages, therefore highly searched for on Google. The beautiful landscape of Ireland has over 300 golf courses.
Rugby in Ireland
The Irish people are very passionate about Rugby Union and are one of the favourites (along with New Zealand, England and Wales) to win the World Cup later this year.
Horse Racing in Ireland
Horse racing makes the list too, a large number of searchers are no doubt for betting. However, Ireland is a leading nation when it comes to breeding champion horses, there are also a lot of successful Irish jockeys, such as Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins.
Most Popular Sports in France
Football in France
The FIFA World Cup Champions are France. France also played host to the 2019 Women’s World Cup. It is no surprise to see football top the list again. Paris Saint Germain is currently the biggest team in France with household names such as Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Ángel Di María in their squad. Domestically however the French sides have some work to do to catch the English, German, Italian and Spanish top leagues.
Rugby in France
In France, especially in the south of France, rugby is very popular. Their national team has been in every World Cup since its inception in 1987, finishing runners-up three times. The World Cup final in 2011 between New Zealand and France gathered 15.4 million TV viewers. They have won the 6 Nations 5 times since the year 2000. French side Toulouse has won the European Rugby Champions Cup 4 times, that’s the joint-most wins with Irish club Leinster. Rugby League is less popular, however, the Catalan Dragons compete in the Super League (the only French club to do so).
Tennis in France
France plays host to one of only four tennis Grand Slams. It’s the only Grand Slam played on clay at Roland-Garros so it’s no surprise to see tennis in the list.
No Room for Cycling
Golf and basketball make up the top 5 list, beating the likes of cycling (home of Tour de France) handball and skiing which are also popular in France.
Most Popular Sports in Germany
Football in Germany
Germany is the most successful European footballing nation, winning four World Cups and three European Championships. Football is by far their most popular sport. The German Football Association has 6.6 million members (roughly 8% of the population) involved in over 26,000 football clubs.
Handball in Germany
Handball is the second most popular sport. The Germans are also very good at handball. They have won three World Championships and two European Championships.
Tennis in Germany
One of the most popular sports in Europe. However, Germany is arguably one of the most passionate nations for tennis. More than five million people play tennis in Germany. The German Tennis Federation is the largest tennis federation in the world with 1.4 million members (ATP).
Golf in Germany
There are over 700 golf clubs and over 600,000 active golfers in Germany making it hugely popular. Out of all the golfers, roughly 57% are males, 35% female and 8% junior players.
Boxing in Germany
Boxing makes up the top 5. Another popular sport, Wladimir Klitschko had no problem filling the Veltins-Arena with 60,000 people when he fought there.
Most Popular Sports in Spain
Football in Spain
Once again we see football at the top of the list. Domestically Spanish football teams have been rather dominant in Europe. Real Madrid are the most successful football team in the world, winning 13 European Cups (2nd is AC Milan with seven, then Liverpool with six) Spanish giants Barcelona have also won the European Cup five times.
Basketball in Spain
Basketball is the second most popular sport in Spain and again, like their football team, Real Madrid are the most successful basketball team in Europe. The Spanish domestic league is arguably the best in Europe. There are 407,728 registered basketball players and 4,053 registered Clubs in Spain.
Tennis in Spain
Tennis, is very popular in Spain, of course, the King of Clay Rafael Nadal is Spanish. The Spanish climate suits outdoor summer sports such as tennis.
Golf in Spain
Golf is the 4th most popular, there were 305,885 registered golfers in Spain in 2016 (KPMG).
Formula 1 in Spain
F1 sneaks in ahead of, handball, cycling, gymnastics and skiing. Spain host an F1 race every May, it’s currently held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Most Popular Sports in The Netherlands
- Field hockey
Football in The Netherlands
The Netherlands is a small nation with a strong powerful influence on the world of sport, especially football. Think of the great Ajax teams playing ‘total football’. The Netherlands has produced some of the most skilful players in the world, think Cruyff and Bergkamp. The women’s team came runners up in the Women’s World Cup this year.
Golf in The Netherlands
Golf is second on the list, there are over 400,000 registered golfers in The Netherlands, approx 2.5% of the population.
Tennis in The Netherlands
There are over 1,700 tennis clubs in the country and more than 570,000 players registered with the Dutch National Tennis Association. This is the second-largest sports federation in the Netherlands after the football federation. There are some great facilities throughout the Netherlands and the majority of courts are clay.
Field Hockey in The Netherlands
Field Hockey is a part of Dutch culture, extremely popular youth sport for both boys and girls. Their international team isn’t bad either. In the video below, Dutch hockey player Ellen Hoog describes what it’s like growing up in The Netherlands playing the sport. She has gone on to win two Gold Olympic medals and two World Championships.
Darts in The Netherlands
Darts takes the 5th spot, just ahead of ice skating which is particularly popular in the winter months. Darts has a huge spike just after Christmas during the World Championships. Volleyball also just misses out.
Most Popular Sports in Russia
- Ice Hockey
Football in Russia
No surprises again as football tops the list. Russia played host to the football World Cup in 2018 and it was considered a huge success despite some trepidation before it kicked off. The Russians got to the quarter-finals, beating Spain on route.
Ice Hockey in Russia
Russia is a dominant force in the sport of ice hockey, the men’s team took 3rd place at the recent 2019 World Championships (Finland won, Canada came 2nd).
As Russia is a cold country you’ll see, (other than football), indoor sports or sports which involve ice are popular.
Boxing in Russia
Boxing is hugely popular in Russia and the nation has produced some of the toughest and most skilful boxers. Former WBA heavyweights Alexander Povetkin and Nikolai Valuev are two recent household names. Boxing has earnt Russia many Olympic gold medals over the years too.
Gymnastics in Russia
Talking of gold medals, next we have gymnastics. The Russians, both male and female are always one of the top nations at every Olympics. The sport is popular throughout Russia, especially with the under 20’s.
Tennis in Russia
Tennis is one of the most popular sports in Europe and this is no different in Russia. The Russian females, in particular, have stood out in recent years at an elite level.
Most Popular Sports in Poland
Football in Poland
Football again tops the list. The Polish national team has finished 3rd twice in the World Cup. The current men’s captain Robert Lewandowski has over 100 caps and 57 goals for Poland. In 2015 he came 4th in the Ballon d’Or behind Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. Most of their best players ply their trade in Germany and England.
Skiing in Poland
Poland is perhaps not the first place that comes to mind when you think of skiing, however it is popular in certain parts of the country. Cross country and ski jumping, in particular, are popular in Poland. There are a vast amount of ski resorts which are used by locals and tourists. The areas that skiiers mostly visit is Szklarska Poreba, Karpacz and Zakopane. These tend to be cheaper than many other ski destinations in Europe like Switzerland, Austria and Italy for example.
Volleyball in Poland
Poland is a strong volleyball nation, the men’s national team is currently ranked 2nd and the women’s team is ranked 28th in the FIVB World Rankings. Both teams have a lot of success in international competitions. This popular sport is played all over the country especially popular for youths.
Tennis in Poland
As with most of Europe, especially Eastern Europe tennis is one of Poland’s most popular sports. In recent years Agnieszka Radwańska has been the poster girl for Polish tennis, the former world number two and Wimbledon runner-up won 20 titles on the tour and was always a fan favourite.
Boxing in Poland
Boxing takes 5th spot. Speedway, gymnastics, ice hockey, weightlifting and cycling are also popular in Poland as well as some traditional Polish sports, such as palant and pierścieniówka.
Most Popular Sports in Italy
Football in Italy
We are getting used to football topping the list now, but in Italy, football tops the list by some distance. Throughout history both domestically and internationally Italy has been successful. The men’s international team has won four World Cups (tied in 2nd with Germany, behind Brazil with five). AC Milan is the 2nd most successful domestic club in Europe, winning seven European Cups (only behind Real Madrid). Inter Milan and Juventus are also in the top 10 domestic clubs in Europe. Over 4.5 million people play football in Italy, which is about 7.5% of the population.
Volleyball in Italy
Volleyball perhaps surprisingly takes the second spot. Played by men and women up and down the country, volleyball beats off some stiff competition to take 2nd spot in the Italian searches.
Tennis in Italy
Italy has a good climate for tennis and it is the third most searched sport in the country. Tennis is played by 1.3m people in Italy.
Basketball in Italy
Italy is one of the main basketball nations in Europe. The Italian domestic league is one of the strongest in Europe, perhaps only behind Spain. The national side is always competitive in the Olympics and World Championships. The Italian men’s team won silver at the Olympics in 2000 and 2004.
Formula 1 in Italy
F1 is popular in Italy. The Italian Grand Prix is one of the longest-running events on the Formula One calendar. Along with the British Grand Prix, it is the only World Championship Grand Prix staged continuously since the championship was introduced in 1950. Italy is also the birthplace of Ferrari, the most well-known race car on the circuit.
The Italian rugby team competes in the 6 Nations and the sport is growing. Boxing, golf, cycling, skiing, swimming and water polo are also popular in Italian sporting culture but not enough to crack the top 5.
Most Popular Sports in Greece
Football in Greece
Football again tops the table in Greece. Their most famous victory came when they won the European Championships in 2004. Like in most of Europe, football is played by men, women and children of all ages throughout the country.
Basketball in Greece
The sport of basketball really took off in the late 1980s and early 90s. The national side won the Eurobasket in 1987 and the sport has grown ever since. The domestic league is also strong.
Tennis in Greece
You can go to Greece for a ‘tennis holiday’. Rafa Nadal has a tennis academy in Greece. The sport of tennis has always been popular with locals too and it is highly searched throughout the year.
Gymnastics in Greece
Greece has a long history with gymnastics. Gymnastics was first introduced in Ancient Greek civilisation to create body development through a series of exercises that included running, jumping, wrestling, throwing, swimming and weight lifting. Physical strength was highly valued in ancient Greece. Only men participated in gymnastics at the time. Gymnastics is now popular with both men and women.
Volleyball in Greece
Both domestic and international volleyball is hugely popular throughout Greece. The quality is not quite at the level of some of the European powerhouses but popularity does seem to be growing.
Most Popular Sports in Switzerland
- Ice hockey
Football in Switzerland
Once again we see football at the top. It isn’t as clear favourite as it is in some other countries in Europe but it is still popular enough to be top. The FIFA headquarters are located in Zurich, Switzerland.
Tennis in Switzerland
The most successful tennis player of all time Roger Federer is no doubt is part of the reason why tennis is so highly searched for in Switzerland. The Swiss have produced other tennis superstars too, such as Stan Wawrinka. Tennis is played by all demographics across the country.
Skiing in Switzerland
Due to the climate and landscape of Switzerland, skiing is popular. Many tourists opt to go to Switzerland for a ski holiday. The Swiss Alps are one of the most beautiful areas in the world to go skiing.
Ice Hockey in Switzerland
Ice hockey is also highly searched for on Google. The Swiss national ice hockey team has a long history and is a founding member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
Golf in Switzerland
There are some beautiful golf courses around the world, but not many as beautiful as playing in the Swiss Alps. This is no doubt the reason golf is popular in Switzerland.
Most Popular Sports in Sweden
- Ice hockey
Representing Scandinavia we have Sweden. The Swedes are one of the healthiest nations in the world. In my article How To Make Money As A Personal Trainer I found that 33% of Swedes are gym members. In comparison 18% in the UK and only 4% in France (although many French people are part of sports clubs). Over half of the population in Sweden are associated with either a sports club or gym. In Portugal (the least active nation in Europe) only 12% are associated with a sports club or gym.
For sport, football again tops the list. Ice hockey just leads golf and tennis in popularity and handball makes its way on the list.
Football in Sweden
At international level, the Swedish male and female teams are always highly competitive. The male domestic league is some way behind the likes of England, Spain, Italy and Germany. However, the women’s league (Damallsvenskan) is considered to be one of the strongest. Zlatan Ibrahimović is Swedens best-known export.
Ice Hockey in Sweden
Sweden is part of the Ice hockey Big Six. This is a group comprising the six national teams that have dominated throughout the history of international ice hockey. It is composed of the North American countries of Canada and the United States and four European countries: the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden.
Golf in Sweden
Golf in Sweden is booming with more than 480 courses with 460 000 members. It has always been a popular sport in Sweden, despite the long cold winters. You can find championship courses such as Bro Hof Castle near Stockholm, Barsebäck GCC in the south and Halmstad GC on the west coast.
Tennis in Sweden
The Swedes have produced some great tennis players over the years. Björn Borg and Stefan Edberg for example. The popularity of this sport can be seen throughout the country.
Handball in Sweden
Handball has always been popular in Sweden. The men’s international team has been very successful. From 1990 to 2002 the team reached the medal round in every championship (6 World Championships, 5 European Championships and 3 Olympic Games, earning 13 medals in total) and qualified for a record 8 championship finals in a row 1996–2002.
Sweden is the most successful nation at the European Men’s Handball Championship with 4 gold medals. The female team, however, has never won a major championship.
Most Popular Sports in the United Arab Emirates
Ok, not Europe but our European office also looks after the Middle East and we have many fantastic customers in UAE.
Cricket in UAE
Cricket makes its return, not popular in Europe apart from the UK and only England really, but cricket is huge in parts of Asia and Australasia. In particular, India and with the influx of Indians as well as many Engish and Australians now living in the UAE stats show that cricket is the most searched for sport. The UAE does not have a Test team, however, their ODI and T20 teams are competitive and improving, proving that the locals are taking it more seriously.
Football in UAE
The UAE national football team is not very competitive on a national level and their domestic football league is a long way behind Europe in terms of quality. However, interest in European football is high.
Golf in UAE
Golf is third on the list and the UAE is home to some fantastic golf courses. Many travellers from all over the world go on holiday to the UAE to play golf. It is also home to the Dubai Classic.
Tennis in UAE
Tennis comes in 4th, a growing sport in the UAE. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai play host to professional tennis tournaments.
Formula 1 in UAE
F1 is perfectly suited to the luxury lifestyle in the UAE. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix first featured back on 1 November 2009. Notice that there aren’t yet any indoor sports on the list. The UAE has a very warm climate, in fact, a lot of the time its too warm to play sport outside.
This report begs the question – Does where you’re born impacts what sport you’ll play?. i.e if Michael Jordan was born in the UK would he have been a pro basketball player? If Tom Brady was born anywhere in Europe would he even know what a Quarterback is? If Brian O’Driscoll (Irish rugby player) was born in Sweden would he have laced up skates instead of rugby boots? As football is by far the most popular sport in Europe, are football players the best athletes and most skilful? Are elite-level footballers at a higher level than any other sport?
Do your genes or your surroundings impact the sport you chose? I wrote a post on why Kenyans dominate long-distance running about this.
With more global sports such as tennis and golf, you could argue that you could make it pro in any country in Europe (if you can afford the equipment and coaching).
Sport is becoming more globalised as is sport tourism one wonders how this might change the future of the sporting landscape.
Most Popular Sports in Europe
There is not a way to break down Europe in Google search. However, we have found this to be the top 3.
After these three it really depends on location, if we are looking at north-west Europe then Rugby Union would make the top three. If we go northeast then Ice Hockey would be in the top three and Gymnastics would be in the top five. In southern Europe handball, basketball and volleyball are more popular. F1 and boxing tend to be fairly popular throughout Europe but rarely in the top 3 of any nation.
Europes’ Most Popular sports – Excluding Football
This includes some countries we have not analysed in our list. It does not represent the whole of Europe, however, it gives a good idea of the most popular sports in Europe, after football.
Summary of the Most Popular Sports in Europe
- Football by far the most popular sport throughout Europe. It is the most popular sport in every nation we analysed in the continent.
- Tennis is in top 5 of every nation on this list apart from UK and Ireland, despite the most prestigious Grand Slam being hosted in Wimbledon, London. This is only because Cricket and GAA keep it out, tennis is still popular in the UK and Ireland.
- Tennis is also popular in many of the other nations we did not analyse but you can see from the infographic above its the 2nd most popular sport in a lot of countries in Europe.
- Golf is probably the third most searched for sport. Out of the 13 countries we looked at it makes the top 5 in 9. There are 5.3 million golfers in Europe and just under 7,000 courses.
- Handball, basketball, ice hockey, volleyball and skiing are not popular in the UK or Ireland but are highly searched sports throughout Europe.
- Basketball tends to be most popular in southern Europe and parts of eastern Europe.
- Ice Hockey is hugely popular in the north-east of Europe.
- Gymnastics, F1 and Boxing pop up on a few lists, they seem to travel well but aren’t the most popular in any nation, however, if this was a top 10 list they would probably be on every list.
- Cricket is not big in Europe and despite it being England’s national sport it is less popular than football and rugby. It does, however, make the top 5. Cricket is popular in Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies (Caribbean).
- Rugby is a big hit in the UK, Ireland and France but not very highly search throughout the rest of Europe.
- Running was excluded from the list as many people search running for a variety of sports. Instead, athletics was considered but didn’t make the top 5 of any list.
- Terrestrial TV impacts interest.
The majority of this information comes from the last 5 years of Google searches.
Books for Football
Books for Tennis
- Complete Conditioning for Tennis
- Nick Bollettieri’s Tennis Handbook, 2nd Edition
- Tennis Anatomy, 2nd Edition
Books for Golf
Books for other popular sports in Europe
- Thinking Volleyball
- Cutting Edge Cricket
- Total Hockey Training
- Hockey Tough
- Field Hockey – Steps to Success, 2nd Edition
- Complete Conditioning for Rugby
- Focused for Rugby
- Alpine Skiing
- The Sports Rules Book