In these days when different sports are competing for investment and advertising it is interesting to see how they rank in terms of popularity.
Various criteria have been used to measure popularity such as TV audience, attendance figures, and revenue earner. So which sport is the world’s favorite? The answer after an examination of all of the criteria is self-evident, soccer is king. But what is the world’s second favorite? That honor goes to cricket followed by basketball in third place.
It has the largest fan following across the globe, varying from rich to poor and young to old. The game is Chinese in origin and was developed by the English.
It is played in 208 nations with a fan following as the number 1 sport in 93 countries with a combined population of 2 billion people and is amongst the top 3 popular sports in 100 countries with 3 billion people. It is the world richest sport and can be played by rich and poor alike. Domestic leagues in Europe value in excess of $30 billion and other leagues total another $10 billion. The soccer World Cup can boost the host country’s economy by upwards of $10 billion (except in developing countries) (Bleacher Report- Most Popular Team Sports: Soccer & Cricket, Basketball & Baseball; by Amrit Doley, May 7, 2009).
There are different types of soccer, namely, futsal or indoor soccer and beach soccer which help to broaden its appeal. And there is women’s soccer which expanded since the 1990’s and also has World Cup competitions.
The second most popular sport in the world.
It is the most popular sport in 20 countries with a combine population of 1.6 billion and is among the top 3 sports in 10 nations with a population in excess of 200 million. The cricket World Cup is the second largest sporting event in the world with a cumulative TV audience of 5 billion people. The Board of Control of Cricket in India is the richest sporting organization in the world valued in excess of $2 billion. (Bleacher Report – Most Popular Team Sports etc).
Cricket comprises Twenty 20, the three hour 20 over a side format, along with One Day Internationals 50 over a side and Test matches (the traditional form) of up to 5 days.
The game was invented in England sometime in the 17th century and exported to the colonies by the colonists in the 18th century.
The controllers of cricket have a lot to be proud of. It ranks second in spite of the fact that (1) it is only played in the British Commonwealth countries namely, West Indies, England, Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand and (2) in some of these countries some people were excluded from the game at various times for reasons of race and class.
Nevertheless cricket was still able to survive to become the second most popular sport. This is well illustrated by looking at the development of the game in some of these countries:-
English cricket has historically involved issues of class. Teams originally consisted of amateurs (gentlemen) who belonged to the upper and middle classes and professionals (players) who were working class.
Cricket has progressed since the days when the gentlemen dominated the game. Innovations such as Twenty 20 cricket and programs to encourage cricket in state schools like “Chance to Shine” and inner city schemes have helped to broaden the game’s appeal.
Nevertheless even today cricket in England is a middle class sport (still referred to as the “Gentleman’s game”).
Thousands of schoolchildren do not get the chance to play cricket with lingering prejudices and preconceptions putting off many more. Cricket is only played regularly in only 10% of English state schools and is only the sixth most popular sport played. On the other hand, practically all private schools offer regular cricket with excellent facilities and coaches. Up to the age of 16, about 93 % of children in the United Kingdom go to state schools so it is clear that too many young people are missing out. This lack of opportunity has filtered through to the national team. Today, over ¾ of the Test squad were educated at independent schools (English Cricket and The Class Barrier, April 9, 2013 by Andrew Thorpe-Apps).
(b) West Indies
Cricket was introduced by the English colonists in the 17th century. They played the game amongst themselves and the slaves were relegated to being mere spectators in the surrounding cane fields where they worked.
If the ball was hit into the cane field the slaves would retrieve it and in order to impress his master the slave would try to throw it back as fast and accurately as possible.
Sometimes a slave would catch the eye of the master who would invite him to field near the boundary line and retrieve balls that were hit to the boundary.
After slavery was abolished in 1838 blacks were sometimes invited to play in a limited role as a fast bowler where he could utilize his physical strength. This situation continued until the arrival of Learie Constantine (later Sir Learie Constantine) in 1920’s.
Learie Constantine was a pioneer in that he was a black all-rounder who could bat, bowl, field and had a deep knowledge of the game. He disproved the myth that blacks could only play with their physical strength and not with their heads. This paved the way for the inclusion of more blacks in the West Indies team and the appointment of Frank Worrell (later Sir Frank Worrell) in 1960 as the first black West Indian captain.
The influx of blacks into West Indian cricket raised the fortune of the national team which went on to become world champions in the 1980’s and 1990’s and enhanced the attractiveness of the game.
(c) South Africa
Under the apartheid system blacks and coloreds were officially excluded from the game. Also excluded were non-white touring teams. So in 1970 South Africa cancelled a tour by England because the tourists included Basil D’Oliveira, a colored South African playing in England. As a result South Africa was banned from test cricket in 1970 and reinstated in 1991 with the fall of apartheid and South Africa’s racial barriers came to an end.
Cricket was taken to India in the 18th century by the British colonists and was controlled by princes during the British Raj (colonial India) particularly after the 1880’s.
The princes competed amongst themselves to have the best teams and also wanted to assert indigenous power in beating their colonial masters at their own game and so they bestowed patronage on the most talented cricketers regardless of their caste, creed or social background.
After independence in 1947 princely patronage was replaced by corporate control over the game and companies favored the educated players from the upper classes since they would not be a burden on the firm in retirement.
This change in the nature of sport patronage was reinforced by an increase in the price of stadium tickets and a decrease in government funding for cricket in impoverished areas which drove the working classes away from cricket and towards the less costly soccer and hockey.
The transformation affected the national team so in 1978 it only had 2 players who were not upper-caste Hindus and in 1982 all except 1 were brahmans or other upper-class (Cricket in India: Representative Playing Field to Restrictive Preserve by Boria Majundar, Ethnicity, Sport, Identity: Struggles for Status 2006).
Despite the exclusion from cricket of the underprivileged the game has survived more than 300 years as the most popular game in India. This was largely due to the production by India in recent years of some of the world’s best players like Gavaskar and Tendulkar, the development of limited overs cricket and the great success of the national team over the past thirty years.
Cricket’s popularity in India and Pakistan with combined populations that make up over 1/5 of the world’s total population has no doubt contributed largely towards making it the most popular sport following soccer.
An American invention, basketball is the most popular sport in the Philippines and is amongst the top 3 most popular sports in more than 10 countries with a combine population of 1.8 billion. 90% of basketball money is in the US with NBA teams generating in excess of $3.3 billion in revenue. The induction of foreign players to the NBA has contributed to making the sport more popular in various nations. (Bleacher Report: Most Popular Team Sports etc).
It is difficult to rank the next few places since they vary depending on the criteria used.
Analyzing the popularity of different sports is always a difficult task. The development of technology has led to the increase in the popularity of sports and people like sports for different reasons whether as players or viewers. The criteria used to measure popularity is only going to increase which will make the task even harder.
Fortunately, the favorability of the above mentioned sports especially the first two is so high (whatever the criteria used) that it made the task of ranking them less difficult.