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The Most Widely Played Sport is Volleyball

As part of the analysis of popular world sports, here is a ranking of (Olympic) sports based on how widely they are played around the world. The table below uses data from the Olympic Program Commission, Report to the 117th IOC Session from 24 May 2005, showing the number of National Federations for each sport.

In addition to the current Olympic sports at the time (Baseball and Softball has since been dropped), the paper included the data for national federations for sports looking at being included in future Olympic programs: Roller Sports, Golf, Rugby, Karate and Squash.

See also the discussion of the most popular Olympic Sports, including an analysis of traffic to the Olympic Commission website. The data below has also been used to compare the popularity of sports between the major regions of the world.

Volleyball is played most widely

The Olympic sport played in the most countries, based on the number of National Federations for the sport, is volleyball with basketball not far behind. This represents a wide reach for these originally North American sports, doing better than the sport usually considered to be most widespread, soccer (ranked 4th), and the other 'universal sport' of running (Track and Field) (ranked 3rd). This list only included Olympic sports or those wishing to be. A non-Olympic sport often found on the lists of most popular world sports is cricket, which has only 105 national member federations (compared to 218 for volleyball), which would rank it very low on this list. Cricket is very popular in highly populated countries, but not widely played.

Number of National Sporting Federations (for Olympic Sports in 2005)

rank International Federation Sport National Federations
1 FIVB Volleyball 218
2 FIBA Basketball 212
3 IAAF Athletics (Track & Field) 211
4 FIFA Football (Soccer) 205
5 ITF Tennis 203
6 ITTF Table Tennis 197
7 FINA Aquatics 190
8 AIBA Boxing 190
9 IJF Judo 187
10 WTF Taekwondo 179
11 WKF Karate 173
12 IWF Weightlifting 172
13 UCI Cycling 163
14 IBF Badminton 156
15 IHF Handball 155
16 ISSF Shooting 154
17 FILA Wrestling 153
18 FITA Archery 137
19 ICF Canoe-kayak 137
20 FEI Equestrian 134
21 FIG Gymnastics 130
22 ISF Softball 126
23 WSF Squash 125
24 FISA Rowing 118
25 FIH Field Hockey 117
26 ISAF Sailing 116
27 FIE Fencing 115
28 IBAF Baseball 112
29 IRB Rugby 110
30 ITU Triathlon 106
31 UIPM Modern Pentathlon 102
32 IGF Golf 101
33 FIRS Roller Sports 85



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Lists Extra

Football/Soccer is clearly the world's most popular sport, and has the most popular athletes, but which sport has the fittest players (but not necessarily the greatest athlete). These players do not always earn the most. The best of the best have made it to our 7 Sporting Wonders Lists.

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