Sports are enormously popular all around the world and played by millions of people. At the forefront of this is North America, where dozens of different sports are played to a very high level. This includes baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey, soccer, gymnastics, boxing, swimming and plenty more. You will often find that in any international competition the U.S.A and Canada will always perform well in these areas, and this is because it is a fantastic sporting region where competitive sport is weaved into the social fabric and from a young age.
There are also many sports that are not particularly well known or played in North America, but around the world some of these sports have gigantic followings and are as avidly followed as the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL in the U.S and Canada.
There appears to be no particular reason that other sports have not caught on, but perhaps in time they will grow in popularity in North America much like soccer has done in recent times. Soccer and the MLS has grown rapidly over the years, and the U.S men’s national team’s admirable performance in the 2014 World Cup is a testament as to how far the sport has come, and now the future looks very bright for the sport stateside.
There are hundreds of different sports enjoyed around the world, with some of these having enormous followings and participants. Although North America is famous for its sporting prowess, there are also many sports which are not well known or played by many people. However in other nations around the world you will find people playing these games in the streets, wearing jerseys of their favourite players, reading about the sport or watching it being played on television.
Here are 10 sports which are not well known or played by many in North America.
This Japanese sport is a wild, strange, dangerous and entertaining one which could be described as extreme capture the flag. The goal of the sport is to bring a wooden pole that is perpendicular to the ground down to to a 30 degree angle, but with 75 players on defence and 75 on attack, this will always result in pure carnage. Players will have positions such as pole support, barrier, interference and ninja (a single player who sits atop the pole), but it does not take long for chaos to ensue. The sport is played each year by the National Defence Academy of Japan and it was originally invented as part of training for the Japanese military. We can only hope it catches on around the world.
Certainly not a sport for the faint hearted, Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan and is played throughout Central Asia. Buzkashi translates to “goat dragging”, and it sees horse mounted players attempt to drag a decapitated animal (usually a goat), navigate through obstacles and throw it into a circle at the other end of the playing surface. The game can get particularly rough and physical, and often there will be huge groups of players competing which make it a frantic and dramatic affair. When played in its more traditional format there are not too many rules, but the Afghan Olympic Federation have introduced several rules for tournaments, including each team having 10 riders and the game being split into 45 minute halves.
Unlike most entries on this list, it seems unlikely that Buzkashi would ever be embraced in North America.
Kabaddi originated in Ancient India, and it is now the national game of Bangladesh and Nepal. It has become popular throughout South Asia, and there is also a World Cup held every year which India has won each competition. It has recently become popular in the UK, but has yet to reach North America. Kabaddi could be compared to the popular school game tag, but Kabaddi is much more physical and you can tackle your opponent to the floor (the sport has roots in Indian wrestling). Kabaddi was originally used to improve strength, speed and self defence, but is now a hugely popular and growing sport.
7. Gaelic football
Whilst it may not command as much attention as rugby or soccer, Gaelic football is still a historic and important sport and is the most played team sport in Ireland. Similarly to other Gaelic sports, it is played around the world by members of the Irish Diaspora. There are both league and championship competitions which attract crowds of up to 80,000, and it is also widely played by children from a young age.
In terms of rules, Gaelic football could be compared to Aussie rules and there are suggestions they have the same origins. Key differences are that Gaelic football uses a spherical ball, the field of play is rectangular and smaller, a goalkeeper is allowed plus a few other rule variations.
Hurling is a Gaelic sport which is hugely popular in Ireland, but it is also played around the world and particularly among members of the Irish Diaspora. This makes it relatively popular in places such as Boston and Cleveland, but it is still a niche sport in North America. Hurling could be compared to Lacrosse or field hockey, with teams using a stick with a flat, circular head to hit the ball into a net to score points. Hurling is considered to be one of the very first team sports to be invented, but despite this there is no professional league and therefore it is relatively unknown in some areas around the world.
5. Team Handball
Handball is a popular Olympic sport which is particularly prominent in Germany and Scandinavia, but it has never really taken off in North America. The sport has elements of soccer and basketball, seeing teams of 6 players attempt to throw a ball into a net from outside the goalie area, and they can advance through both dribbling and passing. Handball is a surprisingly fast paced and athletic, and if it were embraced in North America you could easily see it becoming a huge success as it is fun to both play and watch the sport.
Netball emerged from early versions of James Naismith’s basketball, but despite their similarities it has not become a big success in North America and is considered a niche sport (although slightly more popular in Canada). It is predominantly played by women with no male teams in official competition, but it is still played by both sexes at a recreational level elsewhere in the world. Although the aim of the sport is the same as basketball and it look similar only without a backboard, the game differs in that players are restricted as to where they can move to in relation to their position.
3. Aussie Rules
As the name implies, this sport originates from Australia but has begun to find popularity around the world. This is for good reason, as it is an exciting and physical sport which contains elements of soccer, rugby, football, basketball and volleyball. It is played on enormous pitches and each team has 18 players on the field during the game, ensuring that there is always excitement which makes it a great spectator sport too.
Aussie Rules has grown in popularity but is still a minor sport in the U.S and Canada, but it certainly has the potential to become a large sport as it combines so many elements of other popular sports.
Although there is some interest in rugby in North America, including a U.S men’s national team, it is still a sport which is generally not played or followed by many. There is room for it to become popular thanks to its similarity to football, but this may also hinder the sport in that football is so heavily engrained into North America that any similar sport will be seen as inferior.
Rugby is one of the most popular sports in the world outside the U.S and Canada, particularly in the U.K, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and throughout Europe. The sport is as popular as soccer in some areas and is taught from a young age. International competitions prove to be enormous events watched by millions, and particularly the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations.
Cricket is one of the most popular sports, with millions of people both playing and watching the game that originated in England. It is a major sport in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Bangladesh. It is played by around 120 million people, and this makes it the second most popular sport in the world (behind soccer). Despite this, cricket has not caught on in North America despite it being played by many around the time of the Civil War.
Although similar to baseball in terms of it being a bat and ball sport where opponents can be caught out and the goal is to score runs, the sports differ heavily. Cricket matches have a much slower pace, and some matches will go on over a few days. Huge competitions such as the Cricket World Cup are gigantic global events, with many parties being thrown throughout much similar to the Super Bowl in North America.