It’s not just Soccer
All around the world, there are billions of sports fanatics who just can’t seem to get enough of the action. It goes without saying that association football – what the Americans call soccer, that is – is probably the single most popular sport on the planet, and its appeal to both fans and players shows absolutely no sign of ebbing away. Indeed, sources estimate that it is regularly played by more than 250 million people in more than 200 countries across the globe. The game’s history is complex, but the key milestone in its development was the English Football Association’s codification of its rules in 1863. Since then, the game has gone on to conquer the planet, so to speak. But it isn’t the only sport to achieve global popularity – far from it, in fact.
Cricket’s development has much to do with the British colonialism of previous centuries, and it’s no coincidence that it enjoys particular popularity in today’s Commonwealth countries. International cricket’s main powers, besides England, include India, Australia and South Africa. In previous decades, the West Indies were the most fearsome team on the planet, renowned for their rip-snorting fast bowling attack, which struck fear into batsmen the world over from the 1970s right through to the early 1990s. Recent years have seen the advent of the 20-over format, and the Indian Premier League has emerged as one of the most lucrative competitions in the sporting world.
It should also be noted that cricket is widely considered to be one of the main influences on modern-day baseball, which is commonly regarded as ‘America’s national pastime’. At first glance, it might seem as if the popularity of baseball is largely confined to the US – and its British cousin, rounders, enjoys only minimal attention on this side of the Atlantic. However, baseball enjoys immense popularity in Japan, having been introduced to the country in 1872. American football, meanwhile, attracts massive television audiences around the planet. Each year, billions tune in to enjoy the pomp and pageantry of the Super Bowl, the annual climax of the NFL season.
Golf might have originated in Scotland, but it too has come to be viewed as a truly international phenomenon. Indeed, three of the sport’s four major championships – the Masters, the US Open and the USPGA – take place in America, with the Open Championship the sole remaining British major. Its top players, however, come from all over the world, reflecting the game’s truly international reach. The ease of global communication – boosted by the advent of the internet – has also seen an increasing number of sports find larger, if still niche, audiences in other countries. Sports such as basketball and ice hockey now have a growing following in Britain, while association football finally seems to have made some headway in the US following numerous abortive attempts – the 1994 World Cup, it seems, did a lot to promote interest in the game in the States. It seems almost certain that this pattern is likely to continue over the next few years, giving armchair sporting addicts plenty to enjoy.
James Stillman is a freelance writer specialising in sports matters, including insurance for footballers and Rugby insurance.