What are the most popular sports in the UK?

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June 1, 2020
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What are the most popular sports in the UK?

Whether it be a team or individual sport, we’re an active nation that offers excellent sporting opportunities catered to everyone. But which sports have made it to the top of the list?

We’ve explored the most popular sports across the UK and why the nation continues to champion them.

Team sports

There are certain team sports that have always been considered to be ‘popular’. This could be because they are built into the school curriculum and played from a young age, or the scale of media coverage that goes into events like the Six Nations or the FA Cup Final may encourage people to get involved. 

Plus, the campaigning and funding efforts over the last 10 years by various organisations means that sport in general has become more popular.


We’ll kick off with football, which has a weekly participation of 1,844,900 over 16 according to Sport England. Football stems back over 100 years and is still considered to be the most popular team sport in the UK.

It doesn’t really come as a surprise as there are around 10 tier league systems in England alone which include professional and semi-professional clubs. If you add to that all the Sunday leagues, that’s a lot of weekends taken up by football.

Plus, the Premier League is not only the biggest sports league in the UK, but around the world.

A big part of this popularity has been driven over the years by The Football Association, one of the oldest governing bodies in the industry.

The FA was the first governing body to promote football all over the world. This has helped with awareness, participation and the general popularity of the sport. It’s watched by millions, played by millions and it’ll no doubt stay like that for a long time.

Rugby Union

Rugby is another team sport that won’t come as too much of a shock, with an increase of 7.21% in participation over the last 10 years.

In earlier times, rugby was never played as the main sport but as time has passed, the game is one of the most popular across the UK with all 4 British countries having a strong national side. It's now played in over 100 countries across 6 continents.

Although it falls behind Union very slightly in participation numbers, Rugby League is still up there with the leaders.

England hosting the 2013 Rugby League World Cup got a massive response and Super League's continued coverage by Sky Sports has attracted a big following. 


With impressive attendances at international matches, big sponsorship names, broadcast deals and record membership numbers, netball still continues to be the most popular women’s team sport in the UK.

Sport England revealed at the end of 2016 that over 180,000 people aged 16+ were taking to the court at least once a week, which is the highest figure in over 10 years.

The significant jump in numbers could be due to a major television deal signed in 2006, broadcasting the netball Superleague on Sky Sports. 

There’s also been a recent launch of Walking Netball, a variation of netball aimed at all ages. This has encouraged people to play a slower version of the game, but still following the original rules.


Cricket was first rooted in the UK as 'traditional village cricket', which is still played in towns and villages across the UK.


Cricket used to be just behind football in the most popular UK sports, but it has fallen the order slightly in the last decade. However, England is still known as the 'home of cricket' and is played on a weekly basis by 158,500 people. 

Cricket's popularity in the UK is exceeded by other countries, with it's popularity rooted in traditional members of the commonwealth. In India, the game holds it's superstars in the same light as the UK does it's footballers. South Africa, Australia, India, Pakistan, and the West Indies also hold cricket in high regard.


Field hockey is a sport that many people played at school, but may not have taken further. However, over the years and particularly since the success of the GB women's hockey team in the Rio Olympics 2016, there has been a major boost in awareness and participation of the sport.

Back To Hockey is set up to get people involved with hockey. Whether you're new to the game or you've had a break and looking to return, there are schemes for any level of participation.

With oganisations like this, there has been a rise in the level of participation in hockey and 92,700 people are taking to the pitch on a weekly basis.   


Individual sports
The popularity of certain individual sports has grown insurmountably in recent years. The London 2012 Olympics was a great driver to getting the country more active, and participation in these sports has seen a significant rise as a result. 


According to Sport England, swimming, athletics, and cycling had the highest weekly participation figures in 2016.

With Great Britain taking it to the next level at every Olympic games and the improvement of facilities since the London 2012 Olympics, it’s expected that the numbers of people getting involved with swimming, athletics and cycling would rise.

Swimming is the number 1 sport in terms of participating with over 2.5 million people in the UK getting involved at least once a week, a figure that is no doubt helped by the ease in which it is to jump in and swim on a regular basis.


Another Olympic sport which is famous in the UK is cycling. The professional numbers in this sport are lower compared to other major sports but on a weekly participation basis, last year there were 1,950,300 people getting on their bikes.

The change over the last 10 years has also risen by 15.70%. Again, Team GB's Olympic success has no doubt played a significant role in this.  


Athletics is another sport getting bigger and bigger in the UK. Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis-Hill are two examples of elite athletes that continue to excel on the World Athletics stage, fuelling the media coverage that continues to showcase the sport.

There are also ongoing fundraising efforts from the likes of UK Sport. They invest National Lottery and Exchequer income into Olympic and Paralympic sport to lead the UK to success.


It could be suggested that tennis is the most popular racket sport in the UK. This is especially relevant after the success of Great Britain's number 1, Andy Murray and the media coverage of grand slams around the world.

Wimbledon is the biggest tennis event in the UK and arguably the biggest in the world, which brings with it popularity and a love for the game. 

Tennis in UK not only attracts sport lovers from all around the world but it also attracts thousands of tourists every year, raising the awareness further. The latest figures saw over 720,000 people turning out to play tennis once a month in England. 

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