The most popular sports in India include quite a lot on the list. However, we will be focusing on at least twenty of these widely played sports and games due to our exhaustive list.
India celebrates its National Sports Day annually on the 29th of August, that is on the birthday of India’s greatest hockey player, Dhyan Chand.
India participates in various world sports such as Olympics, Paralympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and South Asian Games etc. These types of tournaments and championships are held regularly i.e., annually or every four years.
20 Sports that are Popular in India
Here, we are going to take a quick look at twenty popular sports of India and we will also give a brief description on how each of these sports are played.
Note: The following list is arranged in alphabetical order and not ranked in any sort.
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games
Athletics is a popular outdoor sport in India. This running sport without the use of any equipment is pretty competitive and stimulating in nature.
The sport of athletics include different forms of race events, such as running, marathon, jumping hurdles, though with the exception of relay races and cross-country running. In this type of sport, individual representatives from different teams run on a track of a set distance, where the person reaching the finish line first wins the race.
Athletics has popularity not only in India, rather in all countries around the world. Athletes from all corners of the globe participate in various national and international games that are held every year.
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Thomas Cup, Uber Cup
Badminton is both an outdoor and indoor sport that is played in India as well as other countries. It is usually played by two players in a court, though this game can also be played in pairs of two by the players on each side. In this type of sport, the players use paddle bats called racquets (rackets) to bat the feathered shuttlecock across the net and pass it to one another without letting the shuttlecock fall on the ground. The shuttlecock is generally made of lightweight cork as base with trimmed feathers fixed around the top.
The game of badminton is believed to have originated several centuries ago, where it was played in different corners of the globe, and is known by different names in various parts of the world. Most notably, the game was invented from an old children’s game known as “battledore and shuttlecock”, and was later developed and renamed as ‘Badminton’.
Badminton is a popular sport in countries like India, Japan, China, North America, Greece and Europe.
3. Boat Racing
Associated Tournament: Indigenous Sport
Boat Racing is an eventful sport which is mainly enjoyed in the coastal regions of the Indian sub-continent. Boat racing is, in fact, an ancient sport. There exist other traditional and centuries old boat races like ‘Vallam Kali’ of Kerala, India and ‘Dragon Boat Race’ of China.
In this sport, people of South India contest in various boat races, wherein each team is comprised of several members who row their boats with oars to the finish line. The team who gets to the finish line first wins the contest and is awarded with a prize.
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games
The Indian Body Building and Fitness Federation (IBFF) is recognised by the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness as a national federation, representing the country’s bodybuilding community. The national federation is a member of the Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Federation.
In India, billboards featuring bodybuilders promoting supplements can be spotted near the national Institute of Sports offices. Over the last two decades, the fitness industry in India has experienced significant growth. This growth can be observed in various aspects such as personal training and sports nutrition. Moreover, there has been a remarkable rise in the overall awareness about fitness-related subjects among the general population.
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games
In India, the sport of boxing is overseen by the Boxing Federation of India, which governs and regulates boxing activities in the country. The primary focus of boxing in India is on amateur boxing, both at the national and international levels. While amateur boxing is the predominant form of the sport, there are only a handful of boxers who choose to pursue professional boxing as a career.
Boxing has experienced a significant surge in popularity, particularly in the state of Haryana. This Indian state has emerged as a notable producer of medallists across different weight divisions in the sport.
Associated Tournament: Olympiad, Asian Games, Asian Team Championship, World Team Championship
Chess is a popular indoor game of India. The game is also believed to have originated in the country way back during the ancient times. The All India Chess Federation is the governing body for chess in India.
The game of chess is played between two persons. The two ends of the chess board usually consist of 16 White and Black pieces, respectively for each opponent. The game is played by moving pieces using strategy, and taking out the opponent King (the term used here is “Check Mate!”), which ends the game.
Associated Tournament: Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Indian Premier League (IPL), ICC World Cup, Asia Cup
Cricket is by far, the most popular sport in India that is played and loved by many in the country. This outdoor sport has gained significant rave among children and adults for decades. As such, cricket has become a predominant sport in the form of ‘gully’ cricket (street cricket), state tournaments, national championships and international leagues, as well. There is no doubt that cricket is enjoyed by a large section of the nation’s population.
The game of cricket is played by two teams inside of a centred pitch on a spacious ground. Each team is comprised of eleven players, including substitute players. Here, the participating players hit the ball bowled at them using bats and score points until the players batting at the pitch are dismissed via run out, stumped, hit wicket, catch out etc. The Umpire makes the decision of winning or losing in the game.
Cricket is a favourite sport not only in India, it is played in several countries like Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa, England, Australia, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc., too.
Associated Tournament: The Great Himalayan Ultra, Deccan Cliffhanger, National MTB Cycling Championships
Cycling in India is both a competitive and recreational sport. This sport has been taking place in the country since the 20th century. Cycling became popularised in Europe and North America in the latter part and especially in the last decade of the 19th century.
The responsibility of governing cycling in India lies with the Cycling Federation of India. To keep motivating cyclists in the country, the Indian Cycling League organizes GPS-based cycling races. It’s important to note that internationally, the sport of cycling is governed by the Union Cycliste Internationale, based in Switzerland.
In India, cycling is not widely recognized as a professional sport, yet it remains quite popular as a recreational activity. Many individuals engage in cycling as a common way to stay fit and active. Additionally, cycling serves as an excellent means of maintaining fitness levels.
Associated Tournament: FIFA World Cup, Durand Cup, Super Cup, Asian Games
Football is another popular outdoor sport that is played and loved by many in India. Though in many countries such as in the United States, Australia, Canada and South Africa etc., football is better known as soccer.
The game of football is played between two teams of eleven players each, and having a goal-keeper from each team and a referee that takes decisions in the game. The entire game of football is usually of 90 minutes (45 minutes is the half-time) which is played on a spacious, rectangular field of trimmed grass. The players from each team are required to score as many goals by kicking or head-hitting the ball into the goal post, but not touching the ball by the hands. Thus, the team with the highest goals wins the match.
Football is played in various parts of the world, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, France, Hungary, Japan, China, South Africa, Canada, United States and several other countries.
Associated Tournament: Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Championships, World Cup
Gymnastics is gaining popularity in India, though there are different forms of gymnastics performed in different parts of the world. The most common form of competitive gymnastics is called the Artistic Gymnastics (AG). In this sport, the female gymnasts use the events floor, vault, uneven bars, and beam; whereas the male gymnasts use the events floor, vault, rings, pommel horse, parallel bars, and horizontal bar to perform their skills.
Gymnastics is a type of sport that includes physical exercises requiring balance, strength, flexibility, agility, co-ordination, and endurance.
Associated Tournament: FIH World Cup, FIH Pro League, Olympic Games
Hockey, specifically field hockey, is a major outdoor sport which is played in India and it is also named as India’s national sport.
The game of outdoor field hockey is played between two teams, and having a goalkeeper for each team and a referee. The players from each team use curved wooden hockey sticks to control and strike the ball that is the size of a golf ball. The players strike the ball into the goal post in order to make scores of points, and the team with the highest score wins the game.
There are several forms of hockey which are played in different parts of the world. A few common examples of such types of hockey sport are ice hockey, roller hockey, floor hockey etc.
Associated Tournament: Asian Games
Kabaddi is a popular sport in India which can be played both indoors and outdoors. The sport is majorly played in the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. India has been first credited with having helped to popularise kabaddi as a competitive sport.
In the game of kabaddi, two teams, consisting of seven players each, compete against each other on a court. Points are earned when a player from one team tags an opponent from the other team, while the opposing team earns a point for successfully stopping the raider. If a player is touched or tackled by the opposing team, they are temporarily taken out of the game. However, they are brought back into the game when their team scores a point through a tag or a tackle.
Kabaddi is also a popular sport in countries like the Maldives, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and countries in South-east Asia.
13. Kho Kho
Associated Tournament: Olympics, South Asian Games
Kho Kho is a widely played outdoor sport in India as well as in different parts of South Asia.
The game of Kho Kho is played on a rectangular court between two teams, a chasing team and a defending team, comprising of twelve members in each team. The court has a central lane connecting two poles which are at either end of the court. The team that scores the most points by the end of the game wins.
In this game, nine players from the chasing team are on the court, with eight of them crouched in the central lane, while three runners from the defending team run around the court and try to avoid being touched or tagged, which loses points. Each sitting player on the chasing team faces the opposite direction of their adjacent teammates. Each team has two turns to score and two turns to defend, with each turn lasting nine minutes.
Associated Tournament: Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games, ISSF World Shooting Championships
Shooting is an important Olympic sport in India. The sport has a varied history in India. Initially they were played by royal people of British India for amusement and recreation.
The National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) serves as the primary governing body for shooting sports in India. This association is responsible for organizing various tournaments throughout the year, including the prestigious National Shooting Championship Competitions (NSCC). In addition, they also host events like the All India G.V. Mavlankar Shooting Championship (AIGVMSC), Sardar Sajjan Singh Sethi Memorial Masters Shooting Championship, Kumar Surendra Singh Memorial Shooting Championship, and the All India Kumar Surendra Singh Memorial Inter School Shooting Championship.
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Squash World Open
Squash is a popular recreational indoor and outdoor sport in India, and is gaining popularity as a competitive sport. The sport is governed by the Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI). It is believed that the sport of Squash was invented by the military forces during the World War I.
Squash is played by one or more persons on a court. However, there is no opponent player on the other side, instead, there are concrete walls enclosing the court in place of a net. The player or players hit the ball with their racquets (rackets) onto the wall. This allows the ball to bounce back to the player(s) and the ball is hit again and again to score points.
Associated Tournament: Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games
Swimming is a popular aquatic sport in India and the rest of the world. It is also a recreational and an exercise sport that is enjoyed by the youth in the country.
The sport of swimming is competitive as individuals tread water in a pool to reach the finish line, the person reaching the finish line first wins. This type of sport may also involve recreational activities such as water polo (a throw ball game played between two teams in a pool), backstroke, relay, diving, high diving, freestyle etc.
Many individuals including children and adults from all parts of the globe participate in the sport of swimming at various national and international level Olympic games.
17. Table Tennis
Associated Tournament: World Championships, Asia Cup, Asian Championships, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games
Table tennis, also known as ping pong, is an immensely popular indoor recreational sport in India. It has gained significant popularity in various states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. The Table Tennis Federation of India serves as the official governing body for the sport in the country.
Table tennis is commonly known by names like ‘ping-pong’ and ‘whiff-whaff’. It is a racquet sport derived from tennis but distinguished by its playing surface being atop a stationary table, rather than the court on which players stand.
Associated Tournament: Davis Cup, Fed Cup
Tennis is among the most popular sports in India. The game of tennis was introduced in India during the pre-independence colonial rule and soon it started gaining momentum.
The game of tennis is played between two players or in a pair as doubles. The players strike the ball with their racquets (rackets) allowing the ball to bounce over the net but not touching the net, or the player loses points.
Tennis is played in India and various parts of the world, like the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Czech Republic, Japan, France, Romania, Holland, Belgium, Spain and Greece. There are also separate tournaments organised for men and women, both in singles and doubles matches.
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, World Championships, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games
Weightlifting is a competitive sport where athletes strive to lift a barbell, which is loaded with weight plates, from the ground to above their head. The main objective is to successfully lift the heaviest weights possible. In weightlifting, an athlete’s score is determined by the combined total of the maximum weight they can lift for each lift, measured in kilograms (kg). Athletes participate in different weight classes, which have evolved over time and vary between men’s and women’s competitions.
The Indian Weightlifting Federation in New Delhi is the governing body of weightlifting tournaments in the country. The Federation is affiliated to the Indian Olympic Association (Delhi) and is also a member of Asian Weightlifting Federation (Tehran, Iran) and International Weightlifting Federation (Budapest, Hungary).
Associated Tournament: Olympic Games, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championship
Wrestling is a popular sport in India. It is also considered as one of the oldest sports in the country. There are different forms of the wrestling sport that are practised in various regions of the Indian sub-continent, and they are known by different names as well. Each of these forms of wrestling have distinct styles and variations.
The sport of wrestling in India is usually played between two opponents on a mud-laden circular-shaped ground or court. The two participating wrestlers will continue to wrestle until the backside of one of the wrestlers touches the ground. The winner does a parade around the court with the losing opponent following him.
Recently, the Government of India with the association of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports have taken an initiative to boost sports in the country.
This has been done by launching and frequently organising new national-level sports events such as Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG), Khelo India Winter Games, and Khelo India University Games (KIUG) of the Khelo India games in various cities across the nation.