Sports play an integral role in society and have for thousands of years. Cave paintings in France indicate wrestling may be the oldest sport in the world. Although wrestling is still popular today, it's lost the scrimmage for spectators to newer arrivals that make up our list of the most popular sports in the world. Millions of people globally play or watch at least one sport every day. Over time, the rules change and new sports are invented to capture the interest and passion of the modern fan.
Soccer is easily the most popular sport, with four billion fans around the globe. England developed the modern version of soccer, which they call football, in 1863, and today the sport hosts 250 million players across more than 200 countries and territories. Men's soccer has been part of the Olympics since 1900, and women's soccer joined in 1996.
Cricket's exact origins are unknown. The oldest verifiable evidence traces the game back to the 16th century in southeast England. Cricket has 2.5 billion fans around the world but is most popular in the UK and Commonwealth countries. Despite its popularity, the sport appeared in the Olympics only in the year 1900. Fun fact: the cricket scorecard was the model Henry Chadwick used to create the baseball boxscore.
Field hockey originated in Pakistan in the 19th century. Two billion fans, mostly in Europe, Australia, Africa, and Asia, come out to support the third most popular sport in the world. Field hockey has been included in the Olympics continuously since 1928, but first appeared in 1908. Throughout an average match, players travel more than five miles. Interestingly, the game requires left-handed players to use the opposite hand -- left-handed sticks do not exist.
With over one billion fans worldwide, tennis is the fourth most popular sport. The game originated in Birmingham, England in the mid-1800s. Tennis first appeared in the summer Olympics in 1896 to 1924 and has been included continuously since 1988. The yellow balls now ubiquitous with tennis were first used at Wimbledon in 1986. In 2010, John Isner and Nicholas Mahut played for around 11 hours, and still hold the title of longest tennis match.
William G. Morgan invented volleyball just ten miles away from and four years after basketball was created. The game was originally called Mintonette and was designed as a less intense version of basketball that would be better suited for the older members of the YMCA, where William was the director. The Summer Olympics have featured volleyball since 1964. Today, the sport has 900 million fans spread across primarily Western Europe and North America.
Table tennis traces its roots back to Victorian England, where it was a popular indoor game among the upper class. The paddle sport has 875 million fans around the world, and it became an Olympic sport in 1988. The British manufacturer J. Jacques & Son Ltd. trademarked the term "ping pong" in 1901. Parker Brothers purchased the trademark and began enforcing it in the 1920s, which forced ping pong associations to change their names back to table tennis.
In 1891, 30-year old American gym teacher James Naismith invented basketball. Today, more than 825 million fans worldwide watch the sport. Naismith wrote the original basketball rule book and founded the basketball program at the University of Kansas. Rec leagues and pickup games often employ variations on basketball, such as 21, H-O-R-S-E, and Around the World. The NBA -- the National Basketball Association -- is the most prominent basketball league in the world based on players' salaries and skill.
Baseball is often referred to as the great American past-time. About 500 million fans, mostly situated in the Carribean, the United States, and Japan, watch baseball. Though most agree the sport stemmed from various bat and ball games in England in the 18th century, the first World Series was hosted by Pittsburgh and Boston in 1903. The rules evolved over the years; for instance, in 1973 the American League implemented the designated hitter -- a player who bats but does not play a position on the field -- in an attempt to increase scoring and game attendance.
Rugby appears to have begun around 1845 at Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. The sport is the predecessor to American and Canadian football and has approximately 475 million fans around the world. The rough show of athleticism is most popular in the UK, but many intramural leagues in American colleges also participate. New Zealand and Australia hosted the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, and it now occurs every four years.
With 450 million fans, golf seizes the spot for the tenth most popular sport worldwide. The modern version played today traces its roots back to 15th century Scotland, but the true origins are still a matter of debate among historians. Some believe golf is a derivative of the Roman game paganica. Other historians believe golf has grown as an offshoot of the Chinese game chuiwan, played between the eight and 14 centuries. Today, golf is most popular in North America, East Asia, and Western Europe. In 1971, astronaut Alan Shepard celebrated the popularity and timelessness of the sport by hitting golf balls on the moon with a six-iron.
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