Every so often here at Magic League we like to take a look at what are the most popular sports in the UK. It’s fascinating to see how the popularity of various sports changes over time. It’s often a subtle reflection of what’s going on in the world. There are many factors that can affect the popularity of various sports. But for now, let’s just take a look at the 10 most popular sports in the UK, and give some insight into what makes each of them so appealing to so many people.
Football remains the most popular sport in the UK. And by some margin it must be said! This should be no great surprise though, as football is one of the most popular sports in the world, with around 3.3 billion fans in total worldwide.
The popularity of football is mainly down to it’s relatively low barriers to entry and the fact that it’s a fast-paced time that ultimately can be enjoyed by almost anyone. You don’t need much equipment to play it, and the rules are simple and easy to follow.
In England, football is considered the national sport. Football is not only the most popular sport to watch and spectate in the United Kingdom (UK) and England but also the most popular team sport to participate in, with roughly 1.5 million people in England playing at least twice per month. But it’s estimated that around 13.5 million people play football in some form or another regularly.
The main site for football in the Uk is the English Football Association.
The popularity of Golf has massively increased during the last few years. This was in part because Golf was one of the few sports that people could play throughout pretty much all of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Many people who came back to the game or played it for the first time then, have continued to play the game regularly. This has led to a huge surge in participation numbers. Golf can be an expensive game to play though. This surely puts some people off. Costs of golf clubs and associated equipment are high. Then you have costs for golf club membership.
This does mean that golf can still be prohibitively expensive for some people. In this respect, it can still be seen as somewhat ‘exclusive’.
England Golf is the governing body for amateur golf in England. They are dedicated to growing the game of golf. Take a look for more information.
Swimming is still hugely popular in the UK. Around 4.7 million people go swimming regularly in the UK.
It’s considered one of the best ways to stay healthy and lose weight. It’s also great for many people who have injuries of some kind. This is because it’s very much a non-weight bearing activity. Meaning it puts less pressure on the body overall than many alternative sports.
Swimming is the most popular sport among 5-to-10 year old children in England, by far. As children in the UK get older, they tend to move from Swimming over to Football in increasing numbers.
Outdoor swimming has also seen a rise in popularity in recent years. This is probably in part to an increasing desire for people in the world to be healthier and connect with nature in order to improve their physical and mental well-being.
Swim England is the national governing body for swimming in England. They help people learn how to swim, enjoy the water safely, and compete in the sport if they so wish.
You can also take a look at British Swimming for more inspiration and information.
About 641,000 people in the UK play tennis regularly. So it’s still a very popular sport in the UK. The annual Wimbledon tournament in England in the summer always helps to peak interest and participation in the sport. This is one of the four major tournaments that the sports has each year, so it’s extremely popular and watched by millions.
Tennis has a very strong history in the UK. Around 1877, the first tennis club originated at a small club in the south of London.
Boxing remains one of the most popular sports in the UK. There are now estimated to be around 493,000 people in the Uk that participate in boxing regularly. There are thought to be about 775,000 people that take part if you include boxing fitness classes.
This is in part down to the work that the governing body has done to promote participation in boxing. They have actively reached out within the local community to promote boxing as a sport that has significant mental and physical benefits. They have also pushed the community building aspect of boxing as another key benefit.
Boxing has also been positively used in the UK to combat gang culture and rising knife crime as a preventative intervention. Charities such as Gloves Up Knives Down, Boxing Futures, and Fight 4 Change all use the power of the sport to change people’s lives for the better.
There are at least 1000 boxing clubs in the UK too. This further emphasises the sheer popularity of the sport over recent years. The fact that there’s this many boxing clubs around the UK shows that there is still a large demand for people wanting to learn the sport and the technique behind it or even make it their career.
England Boxing is the governing body for the sport of boxing in England, with 990 affiliated clubs and in excess of 24000 members.
Rowing still maintains huge popularity in the UK. Around 377,000 people actively participate in rowing regularly in the UK.
Part of the mass appeal of rowing is down to the success of British rowers in the Olympics, such as Steve Redgrave who won an incredible 5 Olympic Gold Medals in 5 consecutive Olympic Games between 1984 and 2000.
The national governing body for rowing is British Rowing.
Badminton is also an incredibly popular sports in the UK, Around 362,000 people participate in the sport in the UK. It is the UK’s most played racket sport.
Again, the relatively low barriers to entry make Badminton a good choice of sport for many people. You really just require a racket and some suitable footwear to play, as well as the shuttlecock and access to a court of course. So costs are comparatively low, which makes it a great choice for so many people.
More information can be found on the Badminton England website.
Despite mostly still being played by women, Netball is a hugely popular sport in the UK. Some 319,400 people in the UK take part in Netball regularly.
Since England’s gold medal success at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 in netball, the sport has enjoyed increased interest and growing participation figures. These statistics show that elite success really does drive participation in any given sport. It confirms that if the national team(s) do well in a particular sport, more people will start playing it at grass-roots level. Something that should be of great interest to all other sports that want to continue to grow and develop.
There has also been a significant increase in those aged 55-74 playing netball on a fortnightly basis. This is encouraging in terms of getting older people to stay active well into their later years.
England Netball is the national governing body and has 92,000 members, and is represented internationally by the Vitality Roses.
Basketball continues to be a massive sport within the UK. About 232,000 people actively participate in Basketball in the UK.
Statistics show that Basketball is particularly popular among Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. Regular participation in the sport had been waning but has bounced back across the board since grassroots basketball funding was scaled back ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Team GB’s men did not have the Olympic campaign they had hoped for in London, losing four of their five matches to make an unceremonious exit at the group stage, prompting further funding cuts, this time at the elite level.
Over £18m of funding has been committed since 2013 to community clubs, projects and programmes, as well as to Basketball England.
Basketball England has over 34,000 members playing in 675 affiliated clubs across local and national leagues. Over 14,000 of Basketball England members are under the age of 16, and almost 500 members are over the age of 60. Around 6,500 of their members are female. Over 4,650 members are from areas of Low-Socio Economic affluence.
For more information visit Basketball England.
There are still a very large number of people that participate in Cricket in the UK. About 229,000 people actively take part in Cricket these days in the UK.
There is a very strong history of Cricket within the UK. The first-class county championship of the UK is the oldest cricket championship in the world. So it’s a very traditional game in the UK which continues to be extremely popular.
In recent years, different formats have been created and heavily promoted, in order to appeal to a wider audience and get more people involved in playing and watching. This has seen some success as more people have been attracted to shorter and more lively formats of the game.
The main website for the governing body of the sport is the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Rugby Union is still an extremely popular sport in the UK. There are some 133,000 people that take part in the Rugby Union format of the sport these days. About 45,000 people take part in the less popular Rugby League format of the game.
Much of the popularity of the sport is down to the fact that it’s fast-paced, and games only last around 80 mins. This means it has wide appeal to all sorts of people, and relatively low barriers to entry.
The national teams of the UK have seen success in recent years particularly in the Union format of the sport. This has helped to get more people involved in playing.
Check out England Rugby as they are the official governing body for the sport in England.
Hockey remains one of the most popular sports in the UK in terms of participation. Some 105,000 take part in Hockey regularly in the UK.
But Hockey participation levels have seen a decline since the Rio Olympics in 2016. There has been a significant fall in participation over the last five years, which is a worrying trend. England Hockey has some very ambitious targets of doubling this participation in hockey in the UK in the coming years. They have a strategy for trying to do this which they are implementing now. This focuses on strategies for coaching, officials and clubs, as well as the infrastructure around the sport.
For more information visit the England Hockey website.
Rounders is a growing sport that is now amongst the most popular in the UK in terms of participation. Some 68,000 people take part in rounders regularly in the UK.
The sport has an interesting and diverse history. It has roots dating back to Tudor times. Around 70% of the participants in Rounders are women. Rounders is also played in the majority of UK schools (87 per cent) and is in the top 10 most participated school sports. This active participation in schools throughout the UK has really helped to push the sport. This has been instrumental in its rise in popularity in recent years.
A focus for Rounders England in recent years has been the need to establish a nationwide infrastructure to provide playing opportunities outside of school. Participation at higher education establishments is increasing, mainly due to Sport England’s Active Universities initiative where 19 universities received funding to offer rounders.
Rounders appeals to a broad spectrum of people, including beginners and those returning to the game. This is down to the sociable aspects and the informality the game offers. The sport has focuses on the appeal of it being a simple, inclusive and fun activity.
For more information visit the governing body, Rounders England.
Although much less popular than the Union format of the sport, Rugby League still has good participation rates in the UK. About 45,000 people participate in Rugby League regularly in the UK.
Although Rugby league is played across the whole of England, it is most popular in Northern England. Especially Yorkshire and Lancashire, where the game originated. These areas are the heartland of rugby league. The sport is also popular in Cumbria, where the amateur game is particularly powerful.
The impact of coronavirus saw the number of registered rugby league participants in England fall by 25% in 2020 from the previous year. There are a number of different formats of the game that have been developed. These include 13-a-side, to Play Touch Rugby League, and Tag Rugby League.
For more information visit the home of Rugby League in the UK.
It’s also worth taking a look on the Betfred Superleague website. This is the top-level of the British rugby league system. At present the league consists of twelve teams, of which eleven are from Northern England, reflecting the sport’s geographic heartland within the UK, and one from southern France.
Next on our list of the most participated sports in the UK is Volleyball. Around 39,000 people take part in Volleyball in the UK regularly.
Following the 2012 Olympic Games in London, funding was cut for both the men’s and women’s national squads. This has obviously negatively affected the participation in the sport in past years.
There are some key reasons why Volleyball remains so popular. It’s an exciting, competitive sport. Participants get the benefit of aerobic exercise, as well as the chance to develop a good tactical brain through playing the sport. Also, at grassroots level, thousands of people in schools, universities and leisure centres enjoy volleyball in both its indoor and outdoor forms. At the London Olympics, beach-volleyball teams played in front of crowds of 15,000. Despite this, the government remains reluctant to fund the sport.
Volleyball is watched by over 800 million people across the world and is Brazil’s number one sport, but it’s still relatively new in Britain. So beyond the fun and health benefits of volleyball, there’s not much else to inspire young athletes to take up the game right now in the UK.
Athletics is another sports that remains incredibly popular in the UK. In fact, England has the most number of athletes of any other country. Athletics is the largest sport at the Olympic Games and is divided into track, field and road events. This will account for some of its mass popularity.
One of the universal appeals of athletics is its immense versatility. With so many different events included, there is truly something for everyone. It means that a wide variety of people with varying attributes and skills can get involved and enjoy the sport.
Take a look at the British Athletics website for more information.
You can also go to the England Athletics website for more inspiration and information.
Most popular sports in the UK – Conclusion
We hope you’ve enjoyed this round-up of the most popular sports in the UK. As we mentioned earlier, it’s fascinating to see how participation in each sport goes up and down over the years based in a variety of different factors.
No matter what sport you choose to participate in, our league management software can help with your league. Why not find out more and request a demo with us now to discover more.