Here is one person's quest to find a definitive answer:
Methods: First, we found every site on the web that made this bold statement, and sent an e-mail to every one, asking what their sources were, and what statistical information they based their claim on. We received numerous replies, all to the extent of "I heard it somewhere", or "I've always been told that", or "I saw it on another website". Not one webmaster could give us a shred of evidence that his/her claim was true.
So, not to be distraught, we asked the International Federations of each sport which was reputed to be the world's most or second-most popular just how many people were estimated to play their sport worldwide. I've seen statistics based on most watched, or most money made, or most registered players, or most competition entries, but these all seem flawed. We figure that participation is the best measure available of popularity, since the majority of the world doesn't have television, or money to attend sporting events. The vast majority of people who play various sports don't register for teams, or compete in competitions either, such as in Basketball, Soccer, or Tennis, where many more people play just pickup games or recreationally.
The results are shown below. Estimates are directly from the International Sports Federations themselves. The Number of Affiliated National Federations comes from the International Olympic Committee. Only the sports who laid claim to the title of most or second-most popular were included in the study. I left out Auto Racing/F1, who for obvious reasons won't even be comparable in participation numbers to the rest of the sports involved. For your inormation, though, the FIA has 119 affiliated national federations.
Sport 2002 Estimates of Participants Worldwide Number of Affiliated National Federations
Volleyball 998 Million 218
Basketball 400 Million 211
Table Tennis 300 Million 186
Soccer 242 Million 204
Badminton 200 Million 147
Tennis 60 Million 191
Baseball 60 Million 110
Dragon Boat Racing 50 Million 51
Team Handball 18 Million 147
Hockey 3 million 118
Judo 2.5 Million 187
Rugby 2 Million 97
Cycling 600,000 160
Bocce Pending 72
Cricket Pending 74
Some other interesting facts as stated by the federations are as follows:
Formula One Racing has the largest television viewing audience in the world with just the Formula One championship bringing in 40 billion viewers annually. Considering there are only 6 Billion people in the world, less than half with television sets, and only a fraction of those caring about Formula One racing, that's quite a few... When questioned, the FIA did not respond.
FIBA claims over 400 million people play basketball in the world, or one in every twelve men, women, and children, and senior citizens (over 500 million worldwide). This seems a little odd... When questioned, FIBA did not respond. The Jr. NBA states that they feel that the number is "a little high".
FIVB claims nearly 1 billion people play volleyball in the world. One out of every six people. That's really interesting... When questioned, they backed off that statement to say that there are 33 million registered players, but that there are many more than that who are recreational players (obviously, but not 1 billion...). They also stated that there are definitely not four times the amount of volleyball players as soccer players in the world, which basically refuted their initial statement.
Soccer is the most watched sport hockey is the second most watched sport
Without a doubt, the most watched sport in the world is soccer.
Soccer is the most watched sport .
Formula 1 is the most watched motor sport in the world .
The number one most watched summer Olympics sport is soccer. The second most watched sport is men's and women's swimming.
The best sport in the world is basketball and football most watched is football
golf. and it is said to have about 500000 fans in apitch
Cricket is the most watched sport in Australia but in the world its soccer
No, soccer is the most watched sport in the world.
without a doubt hockey
Yes, as it is in fact the most watched spectator sport in the whole world.
The most watched college sport in the US is football, and then in second most watched is basketball, and third is lacrosse.
NO! football is.
Soccer (Football) is the most watched sport.
Football is universal game and it is watched all over the world.
the world cup (soccer)
probably soccer, considering its been the most watched sport for a while now, but im not 100% sure
The most watched sport in the U.S. is football.
Basketball is the most watched women's sport
The summer Olyimpics