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What’s the Most Popular Sport in the World?
Much has been written on the subject and the question has never been settled.
The problem is how to define popular. Analysts base their evaluations on various criteria such as most watched, most played, most talked about, highest grossing, largest television audience, number of stadiums and facilities worldwide, tournaments held and merchandise sales. Because so many criteria have been used, numerous lists of the most popular games have been published. However, the problem is simplified by the fact that soccer is often at the top, regardless of the criteria used.
A 2001 survey by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) revealed that more than 240 million people play the game in more than 200 countries around the world.
Soccer is older than any other sport. Its origins date back to 3000 years ago in ancient China where a game was played with animal skin balls filled with hair or feathers that were kicked into a 10 meter high pole and used for military training. Evidence from other ancient societies such as the Greeks, Maya, and Egyptians shows that kicking games similar to soccer were played in those cultures. The modern game began in England in the 19th century, and the London Football Association was formed in 1863, establishing the first set of rules.
Soccer spread very easily. It started in a country known for its culture and system and empire ownership and was easily exportable.
Today, soccer is the highest paying professional team sport. The prize money for winning the 2010 World Cup was $30 million (world’s most popular sport – most popular sports.net). The World Cup is the most widely watched sporting event; 715.1 million watched the 2006 World Cup final in Germany (The Real Truth: World Cup: Why Soccer Is So Popular Around the World, Cliff Potter, 10 July 2010).
The game is played in a team format and each team consists of 11 players. The idea is that a team attempts to score a goal by kicking the ball into the opponent’s goal post through a combination of passing and dribbling. It is a foul to push, push, or defend an opponent. At the end the team that scores more goals wins.
Soccer is very popular because it has certain attractions that attract both men and women, young and old:
First, it’s simplicity is attractive. All you have to do is play one ball. There are no money barriers and it can be played on any surface, neighborhood street, beach or park. It gives hope especially to children in developing countries to use it as a stepping stone to a better life. They can play their heroes in the game which increases the popularity of the game.
Secondly, soccer is a team sport. 22 people can play in one game. It helps to promote team spirit and unite people around a common purpose.
Soccer also creates team competition and passion. Soccer has some very intense international rivalries such as Argentina and Brazil, England and Germany and America and Mexico, and intense derbies such as Boca Juniors and River Plate in Argentina, Manchester City in England and Manchester United and Real Madrid. and Barcelona in Spain.
Third, soccer stimulates national pride. Playing for your country is a dream and when the national team is successful, people feel more proud of their country. For example in Colombia, when the national team plays both sides in a civil war, for 90 minutes they put their hands down and cheer for their team. On the other hand, this pride can be taken to another extreme as in 1969 El Salvador and Honduras went to war over a soccer game (called the Soccer War).
Fourth, few countries have another viable sport to rival soccer.
After all, soccer is a good investment if you can get a team that goes far. That’s why $5 billion is spent by European clubs to buy the best talent available (Why isn’t soccer popular in the US? Steve McCarthy, March 23, 2009). The objective is to win trophies that lead to huge prize money.
There are different forms of soccer such as futsal or indoor soccer and beach soccer which help to increase its appeal. And there is women’s soccer which has expanded since the 1990s and also has World Cup tournaments.
It is also interesting to note that cricket is usually second in the list of most popular sports. It is surprising because it is played only in British Commonwealth countries, mainly Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, India and Pakistan.
Much has been written on the reasons why soccer has not become more popular in the US. I think American sports fans are already busy with their own sports like baseball, basketball and American football so there is no more room for other competitive sports.
Despite soccer’s success as a global sport, it has not been without its problems:
In recent years FIFA has been hit by allegations of bribery, corruption scandals and resignations. Most notable are allegations of wrongdoing by some top officials during the World Cup 2018 and 2022 bidding campaigns.
Secondly, football has been taken over by commercialisation. Recently there has been an influx of money from wealthy businessmen from Eastern Europe, America and the Middle East buying top clubs and top players. The desire to win and make money has become the main goal, with attendant problems related to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Third, Europol (the European law enforcement agency) recently found evidence of match-fixing in more than 380 matches between 2008 and 2011, including Champions League and World Cup qualifiers. More than 300 more matches are under investigation, mostly outside Europe.
Finally, soccer’s good name is being damaged by racism and racial abuse among players or by fans directed at players.
It also has a long-running problem of football violence, not just between rival fans, but last week in Paris when Paris Saint-Germain fans celebrated their team’s league victory.
After all, soccer has come a long way since it was first invented and has provided plenty of entertainment for millions of fans around the world. But the essence of the game is different from those days. Today this sport has become a big business. It is losing its authenticity and may eventually lose its popularity. Then soccer will no longer be “king”.
Victor A. Dixon
20 May 2013
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