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The Most Popular Sports In Europe

Most popular sports in Europe

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.

Europe is diverse, we have different languages, landscapes, cultures, traditions etc. One thing we have in common is the popularity of sport.

Sport is a form of international communication, almost like its own language! This language is readily adopted and understood around the continent. Some sports travel well, across the whole continent but others don’t. This insightful post analyses the most popular sports in Europe.

Most Popular Sports in the United Kingdom

  1. Football
  2. Golf
  3. Rugby Union
  4. Cricket
  5. Boxing

There are many diverse sports in the UK. The British Isles is the birthplace of football, Rugby League, Rugby Union, golf, cricket, tennis, table tennis, field hockey, darts, snooker, rounders and badminton. All these sports are still popular throughout the UK. Guttmann (1978) states it is clear that modern sport did develop in England first.

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 average gate in the Premier League is 38,169 but that doesn’t even tell half the story. The Premier League is the most-watched league in the world, watched by millions of people every weekend. It’s not just the Premier League that attracts the crowds, the leagues below also attract huge numbers and more than most other sports in the UK and even more than some of the leading nations in Europe. Average attendance in the Championship (2nd tier) – 20,181, League One (3rd tier) – 8,741 League Two (4th tier) – 4,694. Even in the National League, where some of the players aren’t full pros you can expect a gate of over 2,000. The Scottish Premier League’s average gate is 15,932. The most successful British teams are Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Manchester City are on the tail of these giants. Glasgow Rangers have won the most Scottish titles but their local rivals Celtic have dominated Scotland in recent years and have also won the Europian Cup (now named Champions League). The top Welsh clubs (Cardiff & Swansea) play in the English league and are both currently in the Championship.

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 much more popular with males than females in the UK.

Most popular sports in Europe football Harry Kane Dele Ali
Harry Kane and Dele Ali celebrate a goal in the Premier League

Golf in the UK

The average age of a golf member in the UK is 45 years old. This is older than most sports. The accessibility of golf which is prone to fewer injuries than contact sports is partly the reason why this sport is so popular. Golf is played by young (8% of golfers are junior members) as well as old, it’s not uncommon to see retired British men and women still playing golf several times a week in their 60’s and 70’s. 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 has consistently high viewing figures. Golf is very popular wherever you reside within the UK.

Golf is most searched for in July, this is because of the Open Championship but this (or at least spring/summer) is also the most popular time to play golf. The search term is least popular in December and January.

Rugby Union 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 the northern counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire in England, however outside of these counties Rugby League is not very popular. In fact, in the southern counties of England and Scotland it does not even make the top 20.

Rugby (Union) was born in the town of Rugby, in the Midlands in England in 1823. It is believed that while playing football at his school, a young William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran. This moment is the origin of today’s game of Rugby Union. Some 72 years later Rugby League was formed in Huddersfield, UK. Rugby is not hugely popular in mainland Europe (other than France), however, it is popular in many Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand & South Africa but again Union is much more popular than League.

England, Scotland and Wales have competed in every World Cup since its inception in 1987. England are the only northern hemisphere country to win the World Cup (2003). England have also finished runners up on three occasions (1991, 2007 and 2019). Wales and Scotland have both reached the Semifinals but never made a World Cup Final.

International Rugby Union is much more popular than domestic, 6 Nations games are nearly always a sell-out, the average gate is over 72,000. The average attendance for a Gallagher Premiership game last season was 14,507, Harlequins v Wasps did sell out Twickenham though with 82,000 people in attendance. In the Super League (Rugby League) the average attendance is just over 8,000.

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.

A Rugby Union match – England Vs Wales at Twickenham 

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 and the most popular sport in Wales, ahead of both golf (2nd) and football (3rd). Although somewhat surprisingly recent research from Decathlon found that football is played by 18% of the Welsh population, this is more than any region of England/Scotland/N. Ireland.

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 Union 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 most popular sports. Cricket struggles for much search volume and air time 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.

The average attendance for an England Test match is over 77,000 according to Simon Wilde, an English cricket journalist. County Championship games average around 6,000, T20 domestic games tend to get slightly bigger crowds of about 7,500. In recent years live cricket has not been on terrestrial TV, however, in 2020, the BBC will show 100 hours of live cricket this includes England men’s international T20 matches, one England women’s T20 international, plus live TV coverage of 10 men’s matches from The Hundred, a new competition in which eight teams, representing seven cities from around the UK, compete against each other.

England – Cricket World Cup Winners 2019.

Boxing KO’s Tennis

Former world number 1 and two-time Wimbledon winner Andy Murray

Boxing pips swimming (6th) tennis (7th), F1 (8th), cycling (9th), darts (10th), snooker (11th) and athletics (12th) which are all also popular. This is likely due to the success of so many British boxers recently i.e. Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, David Haye etc who have all been involved in big super fights over the past couple of years. The Brits have always been a force across the boxing divisions. Going back in history there has been Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno, Ricky Hatton, Joe Calzaghe, Nigel Benn, Prince Naseem, Henry Cooper and many more World Champions.

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 & Dina Asher-Smith (athletics). The Brits tend to dominate darts (with The Netherlands) and snooker (with Ireland and in recent years China has seen some success too). These sports tend to peak at certain points of the year, 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. Darts has a huge spike during the World Championships in December through to New Years Day, the date of the final. Snooker peaks during major championships such as the World Championship in April and UK Championship in December, these are shown on BBC which helps spike interest. During the summer months (July and August) there isn’t much search volume for snooker or darts.

Emerging sports in the UK

American Football has seen growth in the UK in recent years. This is the most popular ‘American’ sport ahead of basketball & ice hockey (which are more popular in Europe than the UK) and baseball (which has very little interest in the UK, probably wouldn’t even make the top 50 sports). The growth in popularity in American Football is likely due to the NFL hosting games in London and many Universities starting to play the game. It’s unlikely it will ever crack the top 5 sports in the UK but it is on its way to breaking the top 10. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has also risen in popularity in recent years, likely due to the growth of UFC. Some believe MMA may one day overtake boxing in the popularity contest.

Athletics leads SPOTY

Interestingly, looking at the history of the Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY), which is a public vote and has been held every year since 1954, most winners have come from Athletics (18). Some distance behind in second is F1 (7) and third is tennis (6). None of these sports makes the most popular list in terms of online searches though. Football has five winners, as do cycling and boxing. Golf which is the 2nd most popular sport only has two SPOTY winners, cricket has four and Rugby Union only has one.

Sport tops Google searches in 2019

The top phrases and questions you searched for on Google in 2019 were released in December and the most searched phrase was ‘Rugby World Cup’ the second most searched phrase was ‘Cricket World Cup’. It is encouraging to see sport is topping the searches, other popular searches included ‘Game of Thrones’, ‘Chernobyl’ ‘iPhone11’ and ‘Joker’ but all these were behind the rugby and cricket World Cup. The most searched for ‘How to’ phrase was ‘How to watch Champions League Final’. this pipped ‘How to watch Game of Thrones’ and ‘How to floss dance’ which came in 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Sporting Hobbies in the UK

In terms of participation running (which was excluded from the research as explained in the summary), swimming and going to the gym are arguably the most popular activities. However, they are behind in terms of viewing figures and internet searches. Decathlon recently revealed that 39% of Londoners regularly go running, 27% of Scots regularly go swimming and residents in the North West (Manchester, Liverpool etc) tend to opt for the gym with 34% going to the gym on a regular basis. People tend to make the most of their surroundings, for example, Yorkshire is home to Britain’s finest national trails and one in five regularly go out hiking, more than anywhere else in the UK. The South East of England was the most popular region for yoga and Pilates. More than one in ten (12%) of residents regularly practice – and are most likely inspired by the fantastic coastal retreats that the region offers.

Most Popular Sports in the Republic of Ireland

  1. Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
  2. Football
  3. Rugby Union
  4. Golf
  5. Horse racing

Gaelic Games in Ireland

Established in 1884, Gaelic is the most popular sport in Ireland and it is intrinsic to the Irish identity. Hurling, Gaelic football and football (soccer) are extremely close in terms of popularity. A recent report by The Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index (TSSI) backed up what Google says. The TSSI is a 1,000-person nationally representative survey.

Infographic created by The Teneo Sport and Sponsorship Index

Interestingly GAA was set up to preserve and promote native Irish pursuits. It is believed that GAA was set up as a response to British hegemony. The sport has a political and religious past. It was seen as a defence mechanism against Britain as Catholic Ireland was colonised by Protestant Scots and English. Some state that these traditional Irish games influenced the founders of Australian Rules Football too (the most popular sport in most of Australia).

Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is made up of five different Irish sports, Gaelic football, hurling (men only) and camogie (women only). The other two less popular sports are rounders and Gaelic handball.

Check out this clip of Gaelic football and hurling.

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%.

Football in Ireland

Football comes in second on the list, many of Ireland’s best players have played in the English Premier League. These include Roy Keane, Denis Irwin and Liam Brady (who also played in Italy). The domestic league is a long way behind England and other top European nations in terms of quality and viewing figures. The national team have qualified for three World Cups. In Italia ’90 they reached the quarter-finals, Irelands best finish to date.

Rugby Union in Ireland

The Irish people are very passionate about Rugby Union. In certain parts of the country such as Galway and Limerick, it is the most popular sport in terms of internet searches. In Dublin, it is very close between GAA and Rugby Union. Ireland was one of the favourites to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, however, they lost to New Zealand in the Quarter Finals. Ireland also hosted the 2017 Women’s World Cup.

Leinster (4), Munster (2) and Ulster (1) have all won the European Rugby Champions Cup. There are over 100,000 registered Rugby Union players in Ireland. Rugby League is not played much in Ireland.

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.

 Ballybunion Golf Club located on the south-west coast in Kerry. Try to keep your ball out of the Atlantic Ocean and the large dunes.

Horse Racing in Ireland

Horse racing is the fifth most popular sport in Ireland. 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

  1. Football
  2. Rugby Union
  3. Tennis
  4. Golf
  5. Basketball

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. Domestically however the French sides have some work to do to catch the English, German, Italian and Spanish top leagues. Paris Saint Germain is currently the best team in France, miles ahead of the chasing pack. PSG have household names in their squad such as Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Ángel Di María.

France lifting the World Cup in 2018.

Rugby in France

In France, especially in the south of France, Rugby Union 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. France has won the Six Nations 5 times since the year 2000. In 2019 France could only make the Quarter Finals of the World Cup (lost to Wales by 1 point) and finished 4th in the Six Nations.

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, they are the only French club to do so.

Tennis in France

Roland Garros in Paris plays host to one of only four tennis Grand Slams. The others are Wimbledon (England), U.S Open (New York, USA) and Australian Open (Melbourne). The French Open is the only Grand Slam played on clay, it’s no surprise to see tennis in the list. Although the last French player to win the French Open was Mary Pierce in 2000. The last male winner was Yannick Noah back in 1983. More recently Gaël Monfils (2008) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2013 & 2015) have both got to the semi-finals. If the French had a real superstar (like a Federer, Djokovic or Nadal) then tennis could easily be 2nd on the list.

Yannick Noah - tennis most popular sports in Europe
Yannick Noah, the last French male winner at Roland Garros.

No Room for Cycling

Golf and basketball make up the top 5, beating the likes of cycling (home of Tour de France, the most famous cycling race) handball, boxing and skiing which are also popular in France.

France has some amazing golf courses situated amongst the natural beauty of the country. There are over 600 courses and around 450,000 affiliated golf members in the country. Many people also go to France for a golf-holiday.

It is perhaps a surprise to see Basketball ahead of cycling and handball but the French do love their basketball. The men’s French basketball team came 3rd in the World Cup in 2019.

Most Popular Sports in Germany

  1. Football
  2. Handball
  3. Tennis
  4. Golf
  5. Boxing

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. The most successful German football club is Bayern Munich.

Handball in Germany

Handball is the second most popular sport in Germany. The Germans are also very good at handball. They have won three World Championships, two European Championships and 10 Olympic medals.

Handball is pretty much unheard of in the UK, to say the UK and Germany so close geographically there are some big differences in different sports and their popularity. For example in Germany Rugby and Cricket hardly get any Google searches or press coverage and they are not played in school. Because Germany is the most populated country in Europe (after Russia) with over 83 million people living in the country, this aids Handball in becoming one of the most popular sports in Europe. To quickly compare the size of the German population there are about 17 million more German residents than there are residents in the UK and France which both have a population of about 66m. Germany has 23 million more people than Italy (60m) which are the next three most populated countries in Europe. Handball is also very popular in Croatia, Hungary, France and the Scandanavian countries.

Handball is one of the most popular sports in Europe, especially popular in Germany.

Tennis in Germany

One of the most popular sports in Europe. However, Germany is arguably one of the most passionate nations for tennis. There are more than five million registered tennis players in Germany. The German Tennis Federation is the largest tennis federation in the world with 1.4 million members (ATP). In the late ’80’s/early ’90’s Germany were a true tennis superpower with the likes of Boris Becker and Stefi Graff.

Golf in Germany

There are over 700 golf clubs and over 600,000 active golfers in Germany making it hugely popular. Golf is very popular with men and women, out of all the golfers, roughly 57% are males, 35% female and 8% junior players.

Boxing in Germany

Boxing is the fifth most popular sport in Germany. Wladimir Klitschko had no problem filling the Veltins-Arena with 60,000 people when he fought there.

Most Popular Sports in Spain

  1. Football
  2. Basketball
  3. Tennis
  4. Golf
  5. F1

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 is the most successful football team in the world, winning 13 European Cups, 2nd is AC Milan (Italy) with seven, then Liverpool (England) 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 is the most successful basketball team in Europe. The Spanish domestic basketball league is arguably the best in Europe. There are 407,728 registered basketball players and 4,053 registered Clubs in Spain. The national side won the Men’s Basketball World Cup 2019 in China.

Tennis in Spain

Tennis, is very popular in Spain, of course, the King of Clay Rafael Nadal is Spanish. Rafa has won Rolland Garros a record 12 times, a record which is hard to see ever being beat. Spain has won the Davis Cup five times and the Fed cup five times. The Spanish climate suits outdoor summer sports such as tennis. Most courts in Clubs throughout Spain are clay courts.

Golf in Spain

Golf is the 4th most popular sport in Spain. There were 305,885 registered golfers in Spain in 2016 (KPMG). Spain has produced some of the most successful golfers in Europe, such as Seve Ballesteros and Sergio Garcia. Spain’s golfing future looks bright with the likes of John Rahm in the men’s game and Carlota Ciganda is currently the highest-ranked female golfer in Europe.

Formula 1 in Spain

F1 sneaks into 5th place in the popularity contest 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

  1. Football
  2. Golf
  3. Tennis
  4. Field hockey
  5. Darts

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.

Dutch football fans are instantly recognisable and famous for their ‘Oranje Invasions’

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, as is speed skating. Darts has a huge spike just after Christmas during the World Championships. The current world number one and World Champion is the Dutch superstar Michael van Gerwen, he has helped increase the popularity of darts in The Netherlands. Volleyball also just misses out on the top 5.

Most Popular Sports in Russia

  1. Football
  2. Ice Hockey
  3. Boxing
  4. Gymnastics
  5. Tennis

Football in Russia

Russia is the largest nation in Europe in terms of land and population (approx 145m residents). 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. The Russian domestic league is regarded as the 6th strongest league in Europe and it is highly competitive, over the last 4 seasons we’ve seen 4 different winners (Zenit Sait Petersburg, Lokomotiv Moscow, Spartak Moscow and CSKA Moscow).

Scenes before the opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow, Russia.

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. Currently, in Russia, there are some exciting fighters in light-heavyweight division in particular such as Artur Beterbiev, Dmitry Bivol and Sergey Kovalev. 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. Russia has won more gymnastics medals than any other country in the world. Gymnastics is popular throughout Russia, especially with the under 20’s.

Russian Aliya Mustafina is a seven-time Olympic medalist.

Tennis in Russia

Tennis is one of the most popular sports in Europe and this is no different in Russia. The Russian females such as Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, in particular, have stood out in recent years at an elite level.

Most Popular Sports in Poland

  1. Football
  2. Volleyball
  3. Skiing
  4. Tennis
  5. Boxing

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.

Volleyball in Poland

Poland is a strong volleyball nation, one of the best in the world. 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 and is popular with youths right up to elite level.

The Men’s Polish National Team won the 2018 Volleyball World Championships.

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 skiers mostly visit are Szklarska Poreba, Karpacz and Zakopane. These tend to be cheaper than many other ski destinations in Europe like Switzerland, Austria and Italy for example.

Skiing in Poland

Tennis in Poland

As with most of Europe, especially Eastern Europe tennis makes the list. 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 who won 20 titles on the tour.

Agnieszka Radwańska was always a fan favourite all over the world.

Boxing in Poland

Boxing takes 5th spot. Speedway, gymnastics, ice hockey, weightlifting and cycling are also popular in Poland. Some traditional Polish sports include palant and pierścieniówka these are less popular but still searched for on Google.

Most Popular Sports in Italy

  1. Football
  2. Volleyball
  3. Tennis
  4. Basketball
  5. F1

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 competitive 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.

Italian Cristina Chirichella spikes the volleyball

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

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

  1. Football
  2. Basketball
  3. Tennis
  4. Gymnastics
  5. Volleyball

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.

Most popular sports in Europe - Greece gymnastics
A historical picture of gymnastics in Ancient Greece

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

  1. Football
  2. Tennis
  3. Skiing
  4. Ice hockey
  5. Golf

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.

Most popular sports in europe - tennis
Swiss tennis superstar Roger Federer is the most successful male tennis player of all time. He has won 20 Grand Slam titles, 8 of which have been at Wimbledon.

Skiing in Switzerland

Due to the climate and landscape of Switzerland, skiing is naturally 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-Europe-golf-swiss-alps-switzerland-matthias-hauser
Golf in the Swiss Alps – Breathtaking views and plenty of fresh air make golf popular.

Most Popular Sports in Sweden

  1. Football
  2. Ice hockey
  3. Golf
  4. Handball
  5. Tennis

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. The majority of the best Swedish players play in the NHL rather than in the European leagues.

The Swedish national Ice Hockey team are consistently one of the best in the world.

Golf in Sweden

Golf in Sweden is thriving with more than 480 courses and over 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.

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.

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.

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.

  1. Cricket
  2. Football
  3. Golf
  4. Tennis
  5. F1

Cricket in UAE

Cricket makes its return, not very 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. UAE is also home to the prestigious Dubai Classic.

Rory McIlroy competing at 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.

 Abu Dhabi’s space-age Yas Marina circuit plays host to the F1 every November.

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.

  1. Football
  2. Tennis
  3. Golf

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.

We ran a poll on our twitter account (HuamnKineticsEU) and basketball topped it, so with our followers perhaps basketball is the 4th most popular sport.

Europes’ Most Popular sports – Excluding Football

Country Sport
Austria 🇦🇹 Tennis
Belarus 🇧🇾 Ice Hockey
Belgium 🇧🇪 Tennis
Bosnia & Herzegovina 🇧🇦 Tennis
Bulgaria 🇧🇬 Tennis
Croatia 🇭🇷 Handball
Cyprus 🇨🇾 Basketball
Czech Republic🇨🇿 Tennis
Denmark🇩🇰 Handball
Finland 🇫🇮 Ice Hockey
France🇫🇷 Rugby Union
Georgia 🇬🇪 Rugby Union
Germany🇩🇪 Handball
Greece🇬🇷 Basketball
Hungary🇭🇺 Handball
Italy🇮🇹 Volleyball
Latvia🇱🇻 Basketball
Lithuania 🇱🇹 Basketball
Malta 🇲🇹 Tennis
Moldova 🇲🇩 Tennis
Netherlands 🇳🇱 Golf
Norway 🇳🇴 Handball
Poland 🇵🇱 Volleyball
Portugal 🇵🇹 Tennis
Republic of Ireland🇮🇪 Gaelic Games
Romania 🇷🇴 Tennis
Russia 🇷🇺 Ice Hockey
Serbia🇷🇸 Tennis
Slovakia🇸🇰 Tennis
Spain🇪🇸 Basketball
Sweden🇸🇪 Ice Hockey
Switzerland🇨🇭 Tennis
Turkey🇹🇷 Basketball
Ukraine🇺🇦 Tennis
United Kingdom🇬🇧 Golf

Considerations

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.

As most of the data is from Google Trends and all keyword research was undertaken in English it could be that in some countries the local word for a sport could push some sports up. However, I believe Google is a good interpreter.

Is a national sporting superstar the reason or the consequence of a sports’ popularity? Is tennis second after football in Switzerland because the success of Roger Federer, or is Roger Federer the result of tennis being a big sport in his native country? Dutch journalist Leo Aquina says that based on scientific sports research in the past one would think the latter is more probable.

Leo Aquina as done some good research into Olympic success to see if it leads to an increase in participation in specific sports. He has never found an instant positive effect on the growth in participation in those specific sports. However, success in a sport can lead to an increased audience. The popularity of tennis in Switzerland may well be attributed to Roger Federer’s ongoing dominance of international men’s tennis. In the long run, this has an effect on the Swiss sporting culture and history, and therefore may eventually have a positive effect on the number of tennis players in Switzerland too.

Summary of the Most Popular Sports in Europe

  • Football by far the most popular sport throughout Europe. It is the most popular sport in almost 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 list 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 registered golfers in Europe and just under 7,000 courses.
  • 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.
  • Cycling surprisingly does not make the top 5 in any of the nations analysed. However, cycling is very popular throughout Europe, especially in France, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and the UK. Like running it is a little hard to measure. People cycle as a means of transportation but it is also a popular family leisure activity but not many are registered to clubs nor do they Google it very often. Research shows that interest in watching elite-level cycling is certainly not as popular as some other sports such as football and tennis.
  • 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 and Scandanavia. This is due to their cold climate and Scandinavian nations tend to have more disposable income than other parts of Europe, Ice Hockey is an expensive sport.
  • 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 nations 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.
  • Terrestrial TV, the weather, culture, history and having a global superstar from your country impacts interest.

The majority of this information comes from the last 5 years of Google searches. All figures correct as of November 2019.

Books for Football

Books for Tennis

Books for Golf

Books for other popular sports in Europe

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Hi, I'm Ryan, the Marketing Manager and chief blogger here at Human Kinetics Europe Ltd. As somewhat of a washed-up athlete I've always had a passion for health, fitness and sport science. I now find myself working at the world’s biggest independent publisher of sport, health, dance and fitness resources. This means I get unrestricted access to all the best, most interesting, scientifically-proven writing on sports science. Of course I'm going to share this with you!

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