India has hosted over 300,000 cricket matches.
In India, there are more popular sports than others and this is down to a number of reasons.
Many sports have deep cultural and historical roots in India. Sports like kabaddi have been played for centuries.
As time has gone on, more sports are receiving attention and naturally, they become more popular among Indians.
The popularity of sports is also down to a growing emphasis on health and fitness in India.
The popularity of certain sports increases with the success of Indian athletes. For example, Sachin Tendulkar is widely regarded as India’s greatest cricketer and is a role model for many aspiring athletes.
With that said, we look at 10 of the most popular sports in India.
Cricket is India’s most popular sport due to a number of reasons.
The British introduced the sport to India but over time, cricket became deeply ingrained in the Indian culture and has been embraced as a symbol of national identity.
According to Business Standard, cricket draws in 93% of sports viewers throughout India.
Statistical data shows that India has approximately three million registered cricketers.
The country has hosted over 19,000 domestic, national, and international tournaments. It has over 2,000 cricket academies, centres, and stadiums.
In addition, India has hosted over 300,000 cricket matches.
Aside from matches being regularly hosted in the country, India’s performance has a huge role to play.
From the World Cup in 1983 to the Champions Trophy in 2013, India has remained a contender for the top prize in international cricket.
Some iconic Indian cricketers include Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, MS Dhoni and many more.
The popularity of cricket and cricketers is also attributed to the mega endorsement deals cricketers tend to land regularly.
Given the constant influx of new talent, expect cricket to be India’s most popular sport for the foreseeable future.
Kabaddi’s origins can be traced to ancient Indian history, where it was believed to be played as a form of combat training. It was primarily a rural sport that gained popularity in villages and rural communities.
It gained prominence in the early 20th century, and it continues to evolve and thrive in India.
The rise of the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) has also contributed to the sport’s popularity.
The first edition was held in 2014 and according to The Hindu, more than 435 million people in total watched the tournament, only bested by the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Having established a strong viewer base and a set of willing sponsors, kabaddi is uniquely positioned to gain viewership in rural areas due to its obvious popularity there and establishing new viewers who slowly learning more about the sport.
India and Iran are the two top kabaddi-playing nations in the world at the moment.
Football is the most popular sport in the world and it is quickly growing in India.
While the ISL has garnered a hefty base of followers in India, it is the huge following of European club tournaments which forms the roots of football’s popularity in India.
The men’s national team is ranked 101st.
Considering India’s population and the demographics of some of the other countries that have qualified for the World Cup, the failure to qualify even once can be called a monumental failure on a professional and institutional level.
Football’s popularity is down to European teams, with the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid having dedicated fanbases.
The Premier League is also one of the most-watched sports leagues in India.
Following the example set by European clubs, India has its own football league now, the Indian Soccer League (ISL). The tournament recorded a viewership of nearly 160 million during its first season in 2014.
The British introduced the contemporary form of badminton, with army officers stationed in Poona playing the game in the 1860s.
Badminton has always been of interest among the public and this has only increased with the success of Indian players on the international stage.
Saina Nehwal wrote her name in the history books at the 2012 Olympics when she won a bronze medal.
PV Sindhu won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics. She has also won gold medals at the World Championships and the Commonwealth Games.
She is considered a modern badminton great and has helped drive the popularity of badminton in India over the last decade.
After seeing the rise of Indian talents on the international stage, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) oversaw the institution of the Premier Badminton League in 2013.
The league generated a fair amount of viewership down to its fast-paced format and the presence of top-rated Indian players.
Hockey is regarded as a national sport in India.
It has had a lot of success in the past, with the men’s team being the most successful team in Olympic history, with 12 medals, including eight gold medals.
Legendary hockey players include the likes of Dhanraj Pillay, Dhyan Chand and Chand Udham Singh.
India’s last Olympic gold medal came in 1980 and afterwards, performances declined.
But in 2016, the men’s team won a silver medal in the Champions Trophy tournaments.
It remains a popular sport in India because it has the Hockey India League (HIL), which is based on the IPL model.
The HIL was established in 2013 to create a following among the general public.
The tournament was recognised by the Federation of International Hockey (FIH) and was granted a 30-day window to allow top players from all nations to participate.
Tennis has a keen following in India and while the country has not seen a lot of success on the singles circuit, there have been plenty of top doubles players.
One of the most successful pairings is Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who are the only Indian pair to become world number one.
Nicknamed the ‘Indian Express’, they won three Grand Slam titles together.
Since then, other players such as Sania Mirza have achieved success and become hugely popular in India.
In 2014, Bhupathi launched the International Premier Tennis League to increase the sport’s viewership in the country.
Comprising of four teams from four countries, namely the Indian Aces, Japan Warriors, Singapore Slammers and UAE Royals, the IPTL was inspired by the success of the IPL in India and the World Team Tennis from the 1970s.
The league was fairly successful but it depended on the appearance of tennis stars such as Roger Federer and Pete Sampras for viewership.
Like kabaddi, wrestling has had a long history in India, with it being practised as a form of physical exercise, self-defence, and a means of showcasing strength and valour.
Culturally, wrestling holds a special place in Indian society. It is often seen as a symbol of strength, discipline, and perseverance.
Wrestlers, known as ‘pehlwans” or ‘kushti players’, are highly respected and revered figures in their communities. Many famous Indian wrestlers have become national heroes and role models, inspiring generations of aspiring wrestlers.
Some of the most famous Indian wrestlers include Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt as well as the Phogat family.
Wrestling has gained even more popularity with the success of hits like Dangal, which was based on the story of Geeta Phogat and her journey to winning India’s first gold medal in wrestling at the Commonwealth Games.
Films like this play an important role in educating the public about sports they have little knowledge about.
Although surpassing the popularity of cricket may seem far-fetched, creating a sports culture in the country is crucial for future success at major tournaments.
Boxing first attracted attention in India when Vijender Singh won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Since then, boxing has become one of India’s most popular sports, especially among the amateur ranks.
Mary Kom is another name that comes to mind. She is an Olympic bronze medallist and a six-time winner at the World Championships.
This success has led to increased media coverage. Television broadcasts, online streaming platforms, and social media have played a significant role in promoting boxing events and highlighting the achievements of Indian boxers.
There has also been an emergence of professional boxing leagues, such as the Indian Boxing Council (IBC) and Super Boxing League (SBL), which has generated greater interest in the sport.
These leagues provide a platform for Indian boxers to showcase their skills, attract investments and engage a wider audience.
Motorsports have steadily developed in India over the years.
This is mainly due to the interest in Formula One.
It first became of interest in 2005 when Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian to compete in the motorsport when he was signed by the Jordan F1 team.
This was followed by Karun Chandhok when he joined HRT Formula 1 Team.
As well as drivers, India also had its own team called Sahara Force India, which achieved its highest points tally of 187 in 2017.
India currently has its own FIA Formula E team with Mahindra Racing, where Chandhok used to be a driver.
The adrenaline-fuelled action, high-speed thrills and the technical aspects are what make motorsports one of India’s most popular sports.
Basketball has always been a key part of Indian sports culture.
It is one of the most popular sports played in schools and colleges.
In recent years, basketball has been a success for India.
The women’s team qualified for the 2021 FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Division A, marking the first time that an Indian basketball team has recorded such an achievement on the international stage.
In 2015, Satnam Singh Bhamara became the first Indian to play in the NBA when he was selected by the Dallas Mavericks.
While he did not see significant playing time in the NBA, his entry into the league marked a significant milestone for Indian basketball and opened doors for other Indian players.
Although India has not had a lot of success, basketball continues to be popular in India.
These sports are immensely popular in India, both among amateurs and professionals.
While some sports have been more successful on the international stage than others, they have resonated with the Indian population, who are actively watching or participating in them.
Cricket remains number one for India but newer sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA) may soon become a popular sport among Indians.