Which is the most played sport in the world?

According to audience research company GWI (formerly GlobalWebIndex), the most popular participatory sport in the world is swimming, although the percentage of Internet users taking part varies significantly from region to region across the globe. In North America, where 32% of those questioned said they swam regularly, and in Europe, where 26% of respondents did likewise, heads the list of most played sports. In the Asia Pacific region, Latin America and the Middle East and Africa, where 39%, 20% and 32% of subjects, respectively, said that they were frequent swimmers, swimming ranked second, behind badminton in the case of Asia Pacific and behind association football, or soccer, in the other two regions.

However, it should not be forgotten that the Asia Pacific region includes the two most populous countries in the world, China and India, and is home to 4.3 billion people, or 60% of the global population. The vast populace of the region accounts not only for the dominance of swimming worldwide, but also for the fact that badminton – which does not feature in the top five participatory sports in any other region, but is routinely played by 44% of surveyees in Asia Pacific – ranks second on the global list.

Beyond the top two places, association football, or soccer, which is unquestionably the most popular spectator sport in the world, is only the third most played. Participation figures of 37% in Latin America and 41% in the Middle East and Africa are tempered by much lower figures in Asia Pacific (27%), Europe (21%) and, particularly, North America (13%), where the ‘beautiful game’ is less popular than not only swimming, but also exercise classes, basketball and cycling.

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