Where Will The 2022 Soccer World Cup Be Held What’s the Most Popular Sport in the World?

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What’s the Most Popular Sport in the World?

Much has been written on this subject and the question has never been definitively decided.

The problem is how to define popular. Analysts have based their assessments on various criteria such as the most watched, the most played, the most talked about, the biggest revenue generator, the biggest TV audience, the number of stadiums and facilities around the world, tournaments held and merchandise sold. As so many criteria have been used, a number of lists of the most popular sports have been published. However, the problem is made easier by the fact that football is often at the top regardless of the criteria used.

A survey in 2001 by the International Football Federation (FIFA) shows that more than 240 million people play the sport in over 200 countries across the world.

Football is older than most other games. Its origin goes back 3000 years to ancient China where a game was played with a ball of animal skins stuffed with hair or feathers which was kicked between 10 meter high poles and used for military training. Evidence from other ancient societies of Greece, Maya, and Egypt shows that kicking games like soccer were played in those cultures. The modern game as we know it began in England in the 19th century and the London Football Association was started in 1863 and established the first set of rules.

Football spreads very easily. It started in a country known for its culture and systems and for owning an empire and it was easy to export.

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 Sports – Most Popular Sports). The World Cup is the most watched sporting event; 715.1 million people watched the 2006 World Cup final in Germany (The Real Truth: World Cup: Why Soccer Is So Popular Around The World by Cliff Potter, July 10, 2010).

The game is played in a team format and each team has 11 players. The idea is that a team tries to score goals by kicking the ball between the opponent’s goal posts through a combination of passing and dribbling. Pushing, shoving or defending by causing opponents to fall is foul. In the end the team that scores more goals wins.

Football is very popular because it has certain attractions that appeal to men and women, young and old:

First, its simplicity is attractive. All you need to play is a ball. There are no money barriers and it can be played on any surface, on the neighborhood street, the beach or in the park. It offers hope to children especially in developing countries to be used as a stepping stone to a better life. They can play in a sport that their heroes play which increases the popularity of the game.

Secondly, football is a team sport. As many as 22 people can play in one game. It helps to promote team spirit and unite people around a common purpose.

Football also creates team competition and passion. Football has some of the most intense international rivalries such as between Argentina and Brazil, England and Germany and the United States and Mexico, and intense derbies such as between Boca Juniors and River Plate in Argentina, Manchester City and Manchester United in England, and Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain.

Thirdly, football stimulates national pride. It is a dream to play for your country and people take more pride in their country when the national team succeeds. For example in Colombia when the national team plays both sides in the civil war lay down arms for 90 minutes and cheer on their team. On the other hand this pride can be taken to the other extreme so in 1969 El Salvador and Honduras went to war over a football game (known as the football war).

Fourthly, few countries have another viable sport to compete with football.

Finally, football is a good investment if you can get a team that goes far. That’s why $5 billion is being spent by European clubs to buy the best talent available (Why Is Soccer Not Popular In The United States? by Steve McCarthy, March 23, 2009). The purpose is to win trophies which in turn bring in big prize money.

There are different types of football ie futsal or indoor football and beach football which help to widen its appeal. And there is women’s football which has expanded since the 1990s and also has World Cup competitions.

It is also interesting to note that the most popular sport cricket is often second in most lists. This is surprising as it is mainly played only in the countries of the British Commonwealth, 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 United States. In my opinion American sports fans are already interested in their own sports such as baseball, basketball and American football so there is no more room for another competing sport.

Despite football’s success as a world 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 the allegations against some of the top officials for wrongdoing during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid campaigns.

Secondly, football has been taken over by commercialisation. Recently there has been an influx of money from wealthy businessmen in Eastern Europe, America and the Middle East buying the best clubs and the best players. The desire to win and make money has become the main objective with the associated problems associated with the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Third, Europol (a European law enforcement agency) recently found evidence of match-fixing in more than 380 matches including Champions League and World Cup qualifiers between 2008 and 2011. Over 300 other matches are under investigation , most from outside Europe.

Finally, football’s reputation is increasingly damaged by racism and racial abuse between players or by fans directed at players.

In addition to this there is the long standing problem of football violence not only between rival fans but last week celebrations by Paris St.Germain fans in Paris celebrating their team’s victory in the league were marred by explosions of violence.

In conclusion, football has come a long way since it was first invented and found to provide a lot of entertainment to millions of fans around the world. But the essence of the game is different from those days. Today the game has become big business. It loses its authenticity and eventually may lose its popularity. Then football will no longer be “King”.

Victor A. Dixon

May 20, 2013

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