India is home to many different kinds of passions and obsessions. Top 10 Popular Sports In India despite the presence of a diverse sample of citizens, there are a few areas which capture the imagination of a large segment of society.
Sports is a major area of interest, cricket being the top most popular sport in India
Sport in India is an area which has always managed to unite a large segment of the population on one side of the aisle. There are seldom instances when Indians unite as a nation behind a common cause and sporting event are some of those instances. However, the popularity of sports in India is not equitable by any stretch of the imagination. Some sports dominate much more than other in terms of sheer popularity and following, while some lag behind in the race to gain traction.
Cricket, without a shadow of a doubt, top 10 popular sports in India . As the saying goes, cricket can be termed as the religion of the country in terms of the pure obsession and popularity it managers to generate.
The hype generated by cricket almost always overshadows the state of some other sports in India.
The State of the ‘Others’ – How sports besides cricket fare in India?
While cricket may be a national obsession, hockey is India’s national sport. Looking at the level of obliviousness of the general public regarding hockey, one wouldn’t assume the sport to be India’s national sport.
The predicament of hockey is very similar to the state of many other organized sports in India under the purview of the Sports Authority of India, a central government body.
The problem with sports besides cricket is similar to other problems facing government bodies across many sectors besides sports – there is a massive deficiency in the standard of facilities.
Neeraj Mishra, a sports management consultant paints the picture as plainly as possible. ‘The focus of our country’s socio-economic policy is not on developing a sporting culture. This is the crux of the problem. If you leave aside developed nations who have the resources to train their athletes, even countries like China, Brazil, South Africa and others who are essentially developing nations tend to do much better in Olympics and other major sporting events. This is because they view success in sports as a matter of great importance. India lags behind these nations because of an attitude problem and not an alleged dearth of talent or skill’
The point Neeraj makes is very interesting. Consider the FIFA World Cup 2018. You have a country like Iceland qualifying easily for the tournament taking place in Russia next year. The population of Iceland is roughly 330,000. To put this in context, the population of Jalandhar, a relatively small industrial town in Punjab is around 850,000. If Iceland can send a team to the World Cup (with all due respect to Iceland), surely India with a population of over a billion can send a team to the World Cup.
The reality on the other is otherwise. India has never managed to qualify for the World Cup. So is this failure down to a lack of talent or gross negligence?
The answer seemingly lies in the latter. When given the right training and focus, many Indian athletes have gone on to bring medals from the Olympics. Since the 2004 Athens Olympics, India has always managed to get atleast a medal at the Games. Sports like badminton, boxing, wrestling, archery, and shooting are showing glimpses of promise.
The future of Indian sports will not be dictated by cricket alone. Other sports will have to rise to meet their true potential, and this will be possible only with a dramatic change in the functioning and mentality of the SAI.
While analyzing the failure of sports besides cricket, it is also crucial to understand the reasons behind the rise of cricket. Unlike most other sports authorities at the beck and call of the government, cricket has its own private body which runs the sport. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the richest sporting body in the world, surpassing major bodies in other sports such as football, baseball, basketball, American football, and golf.
Cricket formed a base with the Indian public during the British Raj. After independence, Indian cricket took its time to reach the standards set by other countries like West Indies, Australia, and England. Winning the Cricket World Cup in 1983 changed the destiny of cricket forever in India. Being a private body, BCCI was able to auction broadcasting rights to the highest bidder. This increased revenues which in turn went into creating a strong grassroots programme to allow the best talent to come through. The same programme has seen some great players emerging through the ranks and winning many accolades for Indian cricket.
This doesn’t suggest that the BCCI is a puritan body of work. It too gets embroiled in controversies from time to time regarding its administrative structure and financial dealings. However, such issues have rarely impacted the performance of the team on the field. The Indian team currently stands amongst the most successful teams in international cricket. This would have been impossible without the systemic programme ingratiated and maintained by the BCCI.
Top 10 popular sports in India
We now move to the list of the most popular sports in India. Before delving into the list, it is essential to first know that these sports have been ranked on the basis of their pure popularity in India. The placement of any sport on the list is not indicative of India’s performance in general.
Though cricket might dominate headlines for the clamor it creates in India, there are a number of other sports which have a decent following amongst many demographics in India. List of sports in India rated by popularity will be displayed below.
The popularity of cricket in India is unparalleled compared to interest generated by a particular sport in any other country. Brazil and Argentina do come close in terms of a similar obsession with football, but the sheer number of cricket followers in India tilts the balance eastwards.
India has won two Cricket World Cups, the first one back in 1983 and the latter in 2011
The reasons behind the sustained popularity of cricket are many. Aside from cricket matches being regularly telecasted and promoted by premier sporting channels, India’s performance in cricket has a huge role to play in its sustained popularity.
From the World Cup in 1983 to the Champions Trophy in 2013, India has remained in contention for the top prize in international cricket. This era has been marked with some of the best cricketers Indian cricket and the world have ever seen in the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, MS Dhoni and many more.
The popularity of cricket and cricketers is also attributed to the mega endorsement deals cricketers tend to land regularly.
In a country obsessed with fame and exclusivity, cricketers are amongst the most revered personalities in the country.
With a new generation of cricketers being led by Virat Kohli, one can expect many good things from the current crop of Indian players in the future. The most popular sport in India is expected to be cricket for the foreseeable future considering the regular inflow of talent with every passing generation.
The most popular sport in the world, football remains an enigma in India. Famously called the ‘sleeping giant’ of the footballing world by former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, football is primarily a spectator sport 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 Indian football team is currently ranked 105 in the world. Considering the population of India and the demographics of some of the other countries who have qualified for the World Cup in the past few years, the failure to qualify even once can be called a monumental failure on a professional and institutional level.
The popularity of football in India remains stoked by the sizable following of European football in urban centers of the country. The Premier League is one of the most watched sports leagues in India. To encourage a culture of football in the subcontinent and India in particular, many top European clubs such as Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea have dedicated fan groups in which are connected with supporters across the world.
These efforts made by European footballing bodies have created a whole generation of young Indians who follow and support top clubs based in England, Spain, Germany, and Italy.
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.
While different sports in India like badminton and hockey would have nabbed the third spot a few years back, kabaddi has returned to the center stage of Indian sports.
Amongst the traditional Indian sports, kabaddi has returned to the mainstream with the unforeseen rise of the Pro-Kabaddi League held annually across various cities in India. In 2014, the PKL became the second most popular league in India, bested only 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. India has won all the Kabaddi World Cups until 2017.
Kabaddi is expected to rise tremendously in popularity in the coming few years.
Though badminton had always been a sport of great interest amongst the general public, success on the international stage had been less forthcoming.
This trend has changed as a crop of Indian players have made a name for themselves and India on the international stage. After establishing herself across various tournaments, Saina Nehwal etched her name in history books at the London Olympics in 2012 by picking up a bronze medal.
India has become a powerhouse in badminton, taking home medals in each of the past two Olympic Games
Nehwal’s achievement was surpassed by her younger counterpart, PV Sindhu. The latter won a silver medal in the Rio Games in 2016. Besides picking up medals at the Olympics, there have been other shutters who have brought him top honors such as K Srikant, Jwala Gutta, Ashwini Ponnappa and yesteryear legends in Prakash Padukone and Pulella Gopichand.
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 presence of top rated Indian players.
With the next Olympics in two years time, expect Indian badminton players to make a major bid for the top prize.
The national sport of India, hockey is still trying to find a way back to the golden years when it brought back gold medals from every passing Olympic Games. Led by Dhyan Chand, India dominated the hockey world with over eight Olympic gold medals.
The change of rules which included the introduction of an artificial playing turf became a bane for Indian players used to playing on regular grass tops. To compound to this problem, incessant infighting in the hockey federation led to the gradual decline of Indian hockey as other nations like Australia, Netherlands and Germany caught up to the Indian dominance.
The decline of hockey has since been apparent. While there are certain blips when the hockey scene does show signs of revival, the overwhelming systemic problems tend to bog the sport down every time.
Like many other sports in India, hockey too has its own league based on the IPL model. The Hockey India League (HIL) began in 2013 to create a ground-based following amongst the general public for hockey.
Indian Hockey still searches for the right ingredients to kick relive the golden period it enjoyed in the previous century
The tournament was recognized by the Federation of International Hockey (FIH) and granted a 30-day window to allow top players from all nations to participate.
One of the most popular sports in the world, tennis has a keen following in India. Though we haven’t seen a large amount of success on the singles circuit, India has been traditionally known for creating top quality doubles players. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi together have a number of Grand Slam doubles titles to their name.
Indian tennis will face a litmus test in the coming years with the impending retirement of Paes
However, India’s dependence on these two legends is now being realized. With Bhupathi having retired a few years back and Paes aging with every passing season, the Indian tennis scene faces a shortage of experienced talents. Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza remain the only two experienced professionals on the ATP circuit representing India with Somdev Devvarman having retired a few months back.
To increase the viewership of tennis in India, Mahesh Bhupathi launched International Premier Tennis League in 2014. Comprising of four teams from four countries in Asia, namely the Indian Aces, Japan Warriors, Singapore Slammers and UAE Royals, the IPTL was inspired from the success of the IPL in India and the World Team Tennis from the 1970s.
The league was a moderate success as it depended on the appearance of tennis stars such as Roger Federer and Pete Sampras for viewership. The Singapore Slammers are the most successful team in the league having won the title twice.
Like kabaddi, wrestling has a striking undercurrent of rural India to it. Wrestling has brought India a number of medals from many major tournaments.
Wrestling with Indians is synonymous with the akhadda-style sport. Though professional wrestling differs greatly from the traditional Indian style of wrestling, the fundamentals of the sport remain the same.
Indian grapplers have recently made a strong impression on the international stage with at least a medal at every Olympics since the 2008 Beijing Games. Sushil Kumar, one of India’s most successful Olympian is a two-time Olympic medalist. Sushil is not the only one, with a sizable number of grapplers having won medals at international tournaments.
Wrestling has gained even more popularity with the success of box-office hits like Sultan and Dangal.
Wrestling has become India’s forte with grapplers bringing home medals in each of the past three Olympic Games
The latter was based on the real-life story of women wrestler Geeta Phogat and her journey to winning a gold medal at a major international event.
Movies such as these play a crucial role in educating the general public about sports they have little knowledge about. Though surpassing the popularity of cricket may seem far-fetched, creating a sports culture in the country is crucial for future success at major tournaments.
Most young Indians will have nostalgic memories of associating boxing with WWE.
India has a strong core group of medal hopefuls in the boxing contingent
In reality, boxing is a professional sport very different from the like of WWE and other combat-based shows. The sport shot to fame in India after Vijender Singh brought home a bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Games.
Boxing has since been a source of many medals on the international stage with the fruition of core group of talented boxers carrying India’s flag. Besides Vijender, women boxer MC Mary Kom won a bronze medal at London Games in 2012 against all odds.
Another aspect one needs to understand about boxing is that the Olympics –approved version of boxing is actually known as amateur boxing.
Professional boxing involves boxers who compete under their name and not the country in general.
Vijender Singh also turned pro in 2015 when he began his career in professional boxing. Since he began his career, Vijender has fought nine bouts and emerged victorious in all of them. He also won the Asia-Pacific title in the process, an achievement which has seen him move to number 10 in the world in professional boxing.
India sports fans have always had a keen interest in motorsports which has developed steadily over the years. The main source of this development has been the craze behind Formula One, the biggest motorsports spectacle in the world.
Formula One first sparked interest from the Indian public in 2005 when driver Narain Karthikeyan became the first Indian to ever compete in the event when he was signed by the Jordan Formula One team. Though Narain never made it to the podium during his time at Jordan, much of it was down to the relative standard of the car he was driving when compared to the other top teams.
Karun Chandhok was the second-ever Indian driver to compete in Formula One when he signed for HRT Formula One in 2011. After a series of poor performances, he was dropped in favor of the reserve driver. Besides drivers, India also has its own Formula One team called Force India. 2017 was a great year for the team as it finished fourth and recorded its highest points tally ever at 187.
Formula One is the major source of interest amongst Indian motorsport fans
Besides Formula One, India also has its own racing team in Moto GP in the form of Mahindra Racing. Rally driver Gaurav Gill is another representative of the country on the motorsports stage. Gill is primarily known for rally race driving. In 2013, he became the first Indian to win an Asia-Pacific Rally Championship. He repeated the feat in 2016 with the same team, MRF Skoda.
Basketball has always been a key part of Indian sports culture. One of the most popular sports which is played regularly in schools and colleges, it is strange to see the lack of involvement of Indian basketball players on the international stage.
Basketball is well ingratiated with India’s sporting culture, but the end product in terms of international level players hasn’t been forthcoming
The past few years have seen some sort of success for India on the basketball scene. The Indian Woman’s Basketball Team qualified for the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Division A. This is the first time an Indian basketball team has recorded such an achievement on the international stage.
In 2015, Satnam Singh Bhamara became the first Indian player to be drafted by an NBA team Dallas Mavericks. He was drafted in the 52nd round of the NBA draft. Besides being the first Indian to be a part of NBA, he was also the first player to be drafted while being a high school postgraduate.
The Importance of Sports in India
In a country rife with complexities and nuances, sports in India offer something uniquely straightforward and remarkably exciting. The chance to enjoy an unadulterated and pure spectacle is a prospect every India looks forward to whether he/she is a cricket, football or any other sports fan.
The importance of sports is on the same lines as the importance of cinema, art or theatre. Besides being spectator sports for the general public, sports professional serve as inspiration for young Indians. This is one of the most important contributions the sporting sector has made to India.
In a country which has lacked personalities appreciated and accepted across the nation since independence, Indian sports personalities have served as a great inspiration to many Indians. From Sachin Tendulkar and Dhyan Chand to Saina Nehwal and Sushil Kumar, sportsmen and sportswomen have brought pure joy to a nation otherwise embroiled in the hustle and bustle of climbing the socio-economic ladder.
Besides serving as an inspiration to Indians, learning a sport instills a healthy level of self-discipline in children from a young age. Aside from learning the trait, children learn the value of team ethic, hard work, preparation, and practice.
This is one of the key reasons why sports should be encouraged in schools and colleges. The current system is too focused on theoretical studies while sport remains a luxury at best. If we want to win medals at future Olympics, ingratiating a sports culture in schools from the grassroots level is of primary importance.