What Are the Most Popular Sports in the United Kingdom?

popular-sports-united-kingdom Credit: James Mitchell/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Football, or soccer as it is known to Americans, is overwhelmingly the most popular sport in the United Kingdom, although rugby league, rugby union, cricket, tennis, hockey and golf also have a strong presence. Certain sports also enjoy regional popularity, such as shinty, which attracts enormous crowds in the Scottish Highlands, but has almost no presence in other parts of the U.K.

Many of the U.K.'s most popular sports were invented in the country. Football has its roots in England, and the Football Association, England's governing body of the sport, was founded in 1863, making it the oldest such association in the world. Hockey, tennis, cricket and both forms of rugby were also invented in England, whereas golf was invented in Scotland. Similarly, the Gaelic Games enjoy popularity in Northern Ireland and Scotland and are derived from the ancient sports played by Celtic peoples throughout Great Britain and Ireland.

The U.K. is unusual in that it is technically comprised of four other countries, namely England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each country maintains its own professional leagues, and for many international sporting events, such as football's FIFA World Cup, the U.K. sends up to four teams instead of the usual one. The main exception to this is the Olympic Games, during which one team represents the entirety of the U.K.