Popular sports in the UK


Popular sports in the UK

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that sport is just one of those things that has the power to unite entire nations. From worldwide events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, to national championships and even local competitions, sport sees spectators coming together to support their country or team and celebrate a mutual interest.

The UK in particular has a thriving sports culture and there are many sports which are hugely popular across the country. Here are some of the most popular from around the four UK nations



Despite having roots dating back to ancient Greece and ancient Rome, boxing began to increase in popularity in the 18th century, particularly in London where illegal bare-knuckle prizefights were on the rise. While Americans dominated championships during the 1900s, London has also produced numerous world champions, including George ‘Digger’ Stanley in 1910 and Teddy Baldock in 1927. Most recently, Nicola Adams triumphed against opponent Sarah Ourahmoune at the 2016 Rio Olympics to retain her Olympic flyweight title. Other notable British boxers (current and former) include Amir Khan, Joe Calzaghe, and David Haye.



Cricket is a particular favourite across England, which is home to 17 professional county clubs. Wales also has a professional county club. A team consists of 11 players, and the game is played with a flat-sided bat and a ball. The batting team tries to score runs while the other team bowls overarm at the wicket, which stands behind the batter; the bowling team must get the batsman out by hitting the wicket or catching the ball. The England cricket team is one of the best in the world. Notable players include Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson. Cricket is England’s national sport.



Football is arguably the moment popular sport in England. Dating back to medieval times, with the first written evidence of a match produced in the 1100s. The Football League was founded in 1888, and is now the oldest football competition in the world. However, in 1992, the first division of the competition decided to break away and form the FA Premier League. England’s national team famously won the World Cup back in 1966. England’s most famous players and former players include David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton.



With attendance as a main factor, Gaelic football is the most popular sport in Ireland. A team sport with 15 players on each side, the players must kick or punch the ball into their opposing team’s goal, between the posts above the goal or over the crossbar. Players are permitted to bounce, carry, kick and pass the ball up the field. Gaelic football is one of the only remaining strictly amateur sports in the world, meaning that no one involved in the sport (players, coaches, etc.) is allowed to receive payment for participating. Gaelic football is also played across other parts of Great Britain, and even some parts of Australia and North America.



The UK is home to an elite netball competition called Netball Superleague, featuring 10 teams who compete against each other from January and May every year. The national team, nicknamed the Roses, earned a gold medal in the World Netball Series back in 2011 and have since earned a bronze in the 2014 World Netball Series and a bronze at the 2015 Netball World Cup. Notable players include Sara Bayman and Jade Clarke.



Well known for its Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, rowing is one sport the British have long since excelled in. Originating in 1829, the race sees teams from each of the competing universities racing each other on a 4.2 mile course on the River Thames. As far as the Olympic Games are concerned, Great Britain has won a total of 63 medals for rowing, 28 of which are gold. Great Britain’s most successful rower, Steve Redgrave, is the only man to have won gold medals at five Olympic Games for an endurance sport.



Rugby is the national sport of Wales. There are two types of rugby played across the UK: rugby union and rugby league. Rugby union is one of England’s leading professional team sports; every year, England’s national team compete in the Six Nations Championship, and were crowned world champions after winning the Rugby World Cup back in 2003. Rugby league is also played across England, but is most popular in the north of the country, where the game originated. The two games have several differences. Here are just a few:

  • League has 13 players on each team, union has 15
  • Discrepancies in the points system (e.g. a try in league is worth four points, but three in union)
  • A league scrum is made up of six people; a union scrum has eight people



Hugely popular in the Scottish Highlands, shinty is a team sport played with sticks and a ball. Although sometimes compared to field hockey, the two sports have a few differences. Shinty players are allowed to hit the ball when it’s in the air, and are also allowed to hit the ball with either side of their stick. The aim of the game is to hit the ball into your opponents’ goal, also known as the hail. Shinty is traditionally played during the winter months and is said to be older than Scotland’s recorded history.



England is home to The Championships, Wimbledon, which is the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. The tournament has been held at the All England Club in London since 1877. The UK has produced many a fantastic tennis player including Andy Murray, Tim Henman, Laura Robson and Heather Watson.


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