With over 1 billion people, India is the second most populated country in the world. The country’s unique history and diversified culture are reflected in the large variety of mainstream and local sports played and followed by its inhabitants. Which are the most popular ones? Learn more with STATSCORE!
The popularity of specific sports disciplines, such as cricket, is directly linked to the country’s colonial legacy, while many others, such as kabaddi, have more traditional roots. Here’s the top 5!
1. Cricket (IPL)
Cricket is by far the most loved sport in India and constitutes part of the country’s culture. It was first introduced during the British rule of India and has then become tightly connected to the country’s history and tradition.
The Indian Premier League (IPL), a professional Twenty-20 cricket competition, which was founded in 2008, is currently the most-attended cricket league in the world. According to data from Duff & Phelps, the brand value of the IPL in 2019 was US $6.7 billion. The league is widely followed by Indians and provides a considerable contribution to the country’s economy. The league’s governing body, BCCI, claimed that the 2015 league’s season contributed ₹11.5 billion (US$160 million) to the GDP of India.
The country’s national cricket team had won some of the sports most important trophies, including the 1983 Cricket World Cup, the 2007 ICC World Twenty20, the 2011 Cricket World Cup, the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy. The team’s matches against Pakistan are some of the most-watched television broadcasts in India.
2. Kabaddi (PKL)
Kabbadi is a sport native to the Indian subcontinent and has for centuries been one of the most popular disciplines in the country.
The Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) is the top flight of the competition in India. The league was launched in 2014 and has since seen great popularity among fans and viewers. The PKL’s inaugural season attracted 435 million TV viewers (second only to the Indian Premier League’s 552 million).
Since then the sport has been seen as the fastest-growing discipline in India. From 2016 to 2017, the league managed to increase its viewership by nearly 100 million people. In fact, the Pro Kabaddi League has attracted more Indian viewers than the last football World Cup.
Investments and sponsorship deals have been going up, just as player salaries. Moreover, there are signs that India’s favourite indigenous sport is also gaining traction outside the country!
3. Football (ISL and I-League)
Football (soccer) is another discipline introduced in India during the British colonial period. However, whereas Indians have had some of the world’s best cricket players and teams, they haven’t yet seen comparable success with their football efforts.
India has never participated in the World Cup, although it was invited to take part in 1950 where other Asian teams pulled out (the legend has it that Indians refused to participate because they were not allowed to play barefoot).
Despite the lack of great international successes, football remains one of the most followed sports disciplines in India. It is highly popular both as a spectator and a participation sport.
The Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League represent the top level of the competition in the country. The ISL, which was founded in 2013, doesn’t employ promotion and relegation but is instead developing through expansion, similar to the Major League Soccer in the USA.
4. Badminton (PBL)
Badminton is currently the second most played sport in India, right after cricket. It has also been growing in terms of TV viewership.
The country has also seen some success on the international level, with some of its players, such as Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi, and Pusarla Venkata Sindhu ranking among the world’s top.
The country’s top competition, the Premier Badminton League, has been attracting an increasing number of viewers. In 2019 the TV viewership of the PBL games jumped to a record 155 million (up from 42 million the previous year).
5. Field hockey (HIL)
Seen by many as the national game of India, field hockey has been one of the most popular sports in the country.
The Hockey India League (HIL) belongs to the most followed major sports leagues in the country.
Founded in 2013, the league is currently contested by six teams with each of them playing 10 games during a two-month regular season, which is then followed by the play-offs.
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