Sports Culture Around The Globe

Sports Culture around the Globe

by Giri Krishnan

Sports are universal across languages and are played around the globe. People might wonder why we should know about alternative sports, as there are already sports which are followed passionately in Canada. Widely followed sports, however, may have migrated or been adapted from other countries. According to Statistics Canada, in 2005, the most popular sport was golf. This was immediately followed by ice hockey, soccer, and gymnastics.


China boasts being the world leader for biggest population, and it may be surprising to some that soccer is the most popular sport. Looking at China’s history, most people would expect the martial arts or Olympic sports, such as ping pong or badminton, to be the most popular. The origin of soccer, according to FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Soccer Association), is believed to be traced back to around the second and third centuries BCE in China, where it  was a military exercise. The Chinese men’s soccer team has never been impressive on the international scale; the last time the men qualified for the World Cup was in 2002, but the team finished goalless, losing all three group matches. The Chinese women’s soccer team has been much more successful, finishing second in the world championship in 1999. Unfortunately, the women’s team did not get much support from spectators, and could not qualify for the 2011 World Cup. Although they are not the most popular, ping pong, badminton, and martial arts are also followed by a majority of the Chinese population.

India comes second in terms of population, and is famous for its rich heritage. The sports culture of India dates back to the Vedic era, a period in history during which the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, were composed. Many sports such as polo, archery, and chess are believed to have originated in India and then migrated to other parts of the world. Field hockey is widely considered the national sport of India. In the past, the field hockey team dominated, winning gold medals consistently at the Olympic level. Unfortunately, the class of players went on to deteriorate and, since the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the field hockey team has yet to gain a medal.

The most popular sport in India is cricket. Cricket was introduced to India during the British colonial rule. The first ever first class match in India was between the cities of Madras and Calcutta in 1864. Cricket has, over the years, become a craze in India. India may be one of the very few countries in the world which has a greater number of cricket viewing audiences than soccer.  India won the 1983 and 2011 Cricket World Cups. The local league tournament called IPL (Indian Premier League) brings in reputed players from around the globe and is eagerly followed by spectators.

In Pakistan, cricket is also very popular. It is common to see amateur cricket played in the streets of Pakistan. Pakistan has been successful at the international level, winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup. Squash and hockey are also quite popular in Pakistan. Even though cricket tops the list, these sports are also encouraged to a considerable extent. Pakistan was part of India before partition, and their cricket roots come from the British rule in India.

In Bangladesh, another country of large population in Asia, the official national sport is kabbadi. Cricket, however, is most popular in the streets; the national cricket team is fondly nicknamed “the Tigers” by media and spectators. Soccer was popular in Bangladesh until they went on to win the international cricket council trophy in Malaysia in 1997. Soccer was eventually neglected by the government and authorities due to the popularity of cricket.  Recently, the nation has seen golf and floor hockey gain popularity. 

Japanese sports culture has interesting trends. Japan’s national sport is sumo wrestling, but the most popular sports in the country are baseball and soccer. The Japanese national soccer team is very successful, qualifying consistently for the World Cup from 1998-2010. The women’s team is the current world champion, having won the 2011 World Cup in Germany. Soccer has consistently gained popularity in the last few years.

Indonesia can boast of repeatedly winning gold at the Olympic level in badminton. Badminton players are highly reputed, and are in a dedicated training atmosphere as they currently practice for the 2014 Olympics. According to the Indonesian Sports and Recreation website, soccer is again the most popular sport, despite the lack of success by the national team. The Indonesian Premier League, with local teams participating, has a lot of support. Traditional games such as Pencak Silat (martial art of Indonesia) and the game of Sepak takraw (a combination of soccer and volleyball) are quite popular too.

The rest of the world:

Brazil is the only country with a top-ten population in South America. To most people, Brazil (and the rest of South America) represents soccer. The achievements of Brazil in soccer include winning five World Cups, and never failing to qualify. Brazil also boasts one of the most successful volleyball teams. It is claimed that soccer came to exist in the samba streets of Sao Paulo thanks to a young boy called Charlie. Charlie’s father sent him to England for school, where he learned soccer and gained prowess in the game. When he returned to Brazil, he showed his friends a soccer ball and a rule book. His friends started playing, and the game came to be followed by all with interest. The Herald Scotland disputes this claim though, stating that Thomas Donohue, a working-class technician from the southside of Glasgow, was the one who introduced soccer to Brazil.

Nigerians devote their time to physical activities such as archery, and wrestling. Since 1952, Nigeria has taken part in the Olympics, and their athletes have amassed recognition for their nation, primarily in boxing. As in most of the globe, the most popular sport in Nigeria is soccer; they started playing in 1949. Currently ranked at the thirty-sixth spot in the FIFA rankings, Nigeria is a competitive team in major tournaments. Nigeria has introduced a large number of world class players to the soccer community.

Popular sports in Russia are basketball, ice hockey, figure skating, soccer, and bandy. Bandy is a traditional sport referred to as Russian hockey, which is influenced by ice hockey and soccer. It is a sport which attracts spectators in large numbers. Figure skating is one of the most popular sports in Russia. In every winter Olympics from 1964 to 2006, Russian pairs have won gold in events like pair skating and ice dancing. The long winning streak came to an end when a Chinese pair won a gold medal in 2010.

The world is filled with diversity, and it is obvious how this diversity can be easily transferred into the world of sports. If you ever get the chance, take the time to ask someone what their favourite sport is and where they believe it to have originated; you may be surprised by where many sports developed, and how they came to be so popular today.