A Billion Eyes on Paris—The Top Sports of the Olympic Games

Written By Walter Yuhl on June 5, 2024
Gymnast balance beam text 2024 paris games hottest summer Olympic games

The world eagerly anticipates the 2024 Paris Olympics, continuing the fanfare around this historic event. The first Olympic games were held about 2,800 years ago. Every four years for 1,200 years, as many as 50,000 people came together to watch the games in Olympia, Greece. After a 2,000-year pause, the Olympic games came to life again in 1896. 128 years later, over a billion people will watch the games of the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris.

As time has passed, one thing has not waned: an enduring admiration for competition and athletic excellence. We spotlight the favorite Olympic events around the U.S. and the world.

5 fun facts about the Summer Olympics

  • Over a billion people are expected to watch the 2024 Olympics in Paris, highlighting the games’ global popularity.
  • The original Olympic sports comprised track and field events—running, jumping, discus, and javelin—as well as wrestling, boxing, equestrian events, and more.
  • The Paris 2024 Olympics will feature 32 sports categories with 329 events.
  • Our research found that gymnastics, athletics, swimming, soccer, and basketball are the most popular Olympic sports worldwide.
  • However, tennis is the most popular Olympic sport in 36 countries.

Olympic sports

Most original Olympic sports, including foot races, javelin, and wrestling, are still played, and many more have been added over the years.

What were the original sports? What sports will be played this year? What are the most popular sports in the world? In each country? In each state? We conducted research to get you the answers.

The original games had 9 sports categories. Many would be familiar to us:

  1. Foot races
  2. Jumping
  3. Discuss
  4. Javelin
  5. Wrestling
  6. Pentathlon (Running, Jumping, Discus)
  7. Boxing
  8. Equestrian
  9. Pankration

Pankration was similar to today’s mixed martial arts. However, it was a brutal full-contact combat sport with only two rules—no biting or eye-gouging.

We are happy to report the 2024 Paris Games will not include Pankration. The games will include 32 categories and 329 different events. You will recognize most of them. Some we think we know but might be challenged to define, like the modern pentathlon. Others might be surprising, like canoeing, surfing, and skateboarding.

Then there is breaking. I’ll let you Google that one.

Paris Summer Olympic Games 2024 sports categories

  1. Aquatics (Swimming, Marathon Swimming, Diving, Water Polo, Artistic Swimming)
  2. Archery
  3. Athletics
  4. Badminton
  5. Basketball (3×3, Basketball)
  6. Boxing
  7. Breaking
  8. Canoe (Canoe Sprint, Canoe Slalom)
  9. Cycling (BMX Freestyle, BMX Racing, Road Cycling, Track Cycling)
  10. Equestrian (Equestrian Eventing, Equestrian Dressage, Equestrian Jumping)
  11. Fencing
  12. Football
  13. Golf
  14. Gymnastics (Artistic Gymnastics, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Trampoline Gymnastics),
  15. Handball
  16. Hockey
  17. Judo
  18. Modern Pentathlon
  19. Rowing
  20. Rugby (Rugby Sevens)
  21. Sailing
  22. Shooting
  23. Skateboarding
  24. Sport Climbing
  25. Surfing
  26. Table Tennis
  27. Taekwondo
  28. Tennis
  29. Triathlon
  30. Volleyball (Beach Volleyball, Volleyball)
  31. Weightlifting
  32. Wrestling (Greco-Roman Wrestling, Freestyle Wrestling).

The world’s favorite Summer Olympic sports

What are the most watched Summer Olympic sports? It depends on who you ask. The world loves futbol, also called soccer or football, depending on who answers. If you ask U.S. Americans, it’s gymnastics. If you ask the Chinese, it’s table tennis, and Mongolians love volleyball. In the U.S., more women watch artistic gymnastics, and more men watch swimming.

It’s quite challenging to rank the popularity of Olympic sports. Ranking methods include the number of participants, website traffic, and Google searches. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) uses a weighting of television viewing figures, internet traffic, surveys, ticket sales, media coverage, and the number of national federations.

We took data from eight sources to compile our top five Summer Olympic sports in the world (see Methodology below).

The world’s top 5 Summer Olympic sports

  1. Gymnastics
  2. Athletics
  3. Swimming
  4. Soccer
  5. Basketball

Favorite Summer Olympic sports in each country

We looked at two data sets for favored Summer Olympics sports by country (see methodology below). The first set was the most popular sport in each country. From this, we counted only sports played in the Summer Olympics.

While some country favorites from this data set were surprising, some were predictable. Ethiopia loves running (track). Most European countries love to watch tennis. Northern Europe—specifically Scotland, where golf originated—prefers golf.

On the unexpected side, golf also ranked No. 1 in Canada. Maybe because it is similar to hockey, involving hitting an object on the ground with a hooked stick? But why is golf so popular in South Africa and Malaysia?

The No. 1 sport in Gabon and Guinea? Skateboarding. Belarus, apparently, loves the trampoline.

Top 5 favorite Summer Olympic sports, by country

  1. Tennis, 36 countries:

Angola, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Cote de Ivory, Croatia, Czech Republic, DRC, Estonia, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Moldova, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Surinam, Switzerland, and UAE.

  1. Golf, 23 countries:

Albania, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Myanmar, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, U.K., Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

  1. Baseball, 22 countries:

Bangladesh, Bolivia, Botswana, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Taiwan, U.S., and Venezuela.

  1. Volleyball, 11 countries

Argentina, Cambodia, Laos, Mexico, Mongolia, Paraguay, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, and Uruguay.

  1. Swimming, 10 countries

Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Yemen.

The second data set included only 28 countries and asked only about the

  1. Football/Soccer:

Argentina, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey

  1. Athletics/Track and field

Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden

  1. Aquatics:

Australia, Canada, Hungary, Japan

  1. Gymnastics

Chile, Mexico, United States

  1. Table tennis:

China

  1. Cycling:

Colombia

America’s favorite Summer Olympic sport

The favorite sport in the U.S. is still baseball, which is also an Olympic sport. However,

The top 5 favorite Summer Olympic sports in the U.S.

  1. Artistic gymnastics/Swimming (tie)
  2. Diving
  3. Rhythmic gymnastics
  4. Beach volleyball
  5. Basketball

Preferred Olympic sports by state

There is no direct data on which Summer Olympic sport is most popular in each state. We took the top 10 most popular Summer Olympic sports in the U.S. and used Google Trends to see which states were doing the most searches for each of the top 10 sports.

Top 10 states searching for the top 10 Summer Olympic sports:

Artistic gymnastics

  1. Mississippi
  2. New Jersey
  3. Arizona
  4. New York
  5. Washington
  6. Florida
  7. Texas
  8. California
  9. Georgia
  10. Ohio

Swimming

  1. Hawaii
  2. Minnesota
  3. Wyoming
  4. Alaska
  5. Wisconsin
  6. Utah
  7. Colorado
  8. Pennsylvania
  9. North Dakota
  10. Vermont

Diving

  1. Hawaii
  2. Indiana
  3. Vermont
  4. Wyoming
  5. North Dakota
  6. Minnesota
  7. Montana
  8. Massachusetts
  9. New Hampshire
  10. Connecticut

Rhythmic gymnastics

  1. Massachusetts
  2. New York
  3. Minnesota
  4. Washington
  5. Kansas
  6. California
  7. Oregon
  8. Nevada
  9. Illinois
  10. Florida

Beach volleyball

  1. Hawaii
  2. Nebraska
  3. Arizona
  4. Louisiana
  5. Florida
  6. Kansas
  7. California
  8. Alabama
  9. Missouri
  10. Idaho

Basketball

  1. Iowa
  2. Nebraska
  3. Kentucky
  4. Indiana
  5. Kansas
  6. North Carolina
  7. Alabama
  8. South Dakota
  9. Wisconsin
  10. Connecticut

Boxing

  1. Nevada
  2. California
  3. New Mexico
  4. Texas
  5. New Jersey
  6. Arizona
  7. Maryland
  8. New York
  9. Delaware
  10. Hawaii

Athletics

  1. Vermont
  2. South Dakota
  3. Maine
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Indiana
  6. Ohio
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Connecticut
  9. Iowa
  10. Kansas

Baseball

  1. Mississippi
  2. Louisiana
  3. Arkansas
  4. Alabama
  5. South Carolina
  6. Nebraska
  7. Tennessee
  8. Oklahoma
  9. West Virginia
  10. North Carolina

Synchronized swimming

  1. Montana
  2. Minnesota
  3. Oregon
  4. Ohio
  5. South Carolina
  6. Massachusetts
  7. New Jersey
  8. North Carolina
  9. Missouri
  10. Pennsylvania

While the number and type of sports have grown over the last 3,000 years, the love of the Olympics has endured. In Ancient Greece, 50,000 people came to watch the games. Today, over 1 billion will watch the XXXIII Olympiad in Paris. As a whole, the world loves soccer (futbol, football). Each country has its favorite sport, and each U.S. state has a favorite, too. What will you be watching?

Methodology

The world’s favorite Summer Olympic sports

To determine the most popular Summer Olympic sport worldwide we collected data from eight sources that had complied data on the subject: Athletics Weekly, Bleacher Report, International Olympic Committee, IPSOS, Tallent Backer, Play Today, Sports Foundational, and World Atlas. We used an average to develop a final list.

Favorite Summer Olympic sports in each country

We looked at two data sets.

Firstly, we used data compiled by ABCD Agency. Their source data came from Rascasse, an AI-powered consumer insights platform that analyzes the number of likes on digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Rascasse also analyzes search behavior on Google and Bing and streaming activity on YouTube and Spotify. The data included the most popular sport in each country but was not necessarily associated with the Olympics. From this data, we included only sports played in the Summer Olympics.

The second data set came from Ipsos Group (Institut Public de Sondage d’Opinion Secteur) a multinational market research and consulting firm headquartered in Paris, France. This data included surveys in 28 countries that asked about preferences in the 2020 Tokoy Summer Olympics.

A difference in alignment between the Rascasse data of generally preferred sports and Ipsos Group’s preferred 2020 Tokoy Summer Olympics was evident.

America’s favorite Summer Olympic sport

We compiled the top five favorite Summer Olympic sports in the U.S. from a combination of data collected by Statista, Most followed Summer Olympic sports among fans in the United States as of March 2021, and YouGov, Global data: Look at the most-followed Olympic sports. 

Statista data consists of information collected from Jan. 1 to March 31, 2021, via online interviews with individuals 18 years and older. The sample size varies between 295 and 11,074, depending on the country (Statista, 2022).

YouGov data consists of “Interviews conducted between January 1 and March 31, 2021. Sample sizes were between 295 and 11,074. The Global Fan Profiles tool is available in the following markets: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK, UAE, USA, and Vietnam. All data is nationally representative except for data from: Egypt, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, and India, where data is representative of the urban populations.” (Graeme, 2021).

Preferred Olympic sports by state

Direct data was not found on which Summer Olympic sport is most popular in each U.S. state. We used Google Trends to determine which of the 10 most popular Summer Olympic sports in the U.S. (see list above) was most searched for.

References

ABCD Agency

Athletics Weekly

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

YouGov

International Olympic Committee

InsidetheGames

Statista

PlayToday.co

Bleacher Report

Topend Sports

World Atlas

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Walter Yuhl

Walter (Way) Yuhl is a freelance writer and business professor. Way has written for the Arizona Daily Sun, Flagstaff Business News, Bangkok University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology as well as edited content for the U.N., Thailand International airports, and other organizations. He has worked with Catena Media since 2019.

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