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Sports in the UK

Whether you prefer to sit in the stands and cheer or be out on the field playing, there’s no shortage of opportunities for sports in the UK, as a player or a spectator. To say that sports in the UK are popular is an understatement – and this passion started long before the 2012 London Olympics.
Football is the most popular kind of sport across the UK.

Cheering for the Home Team

Football (or rather soccer in America) is by far the most popular of all sports in the UK. Most newspapers cover it extensively. The noise level at your local pub will let you know when a game is on, and if you live close to a stadium… well, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them!

The history of football is as dramatic as a penalty shoot-out. There are many tales about possible historical forerunners of the sport, but football as we know it today is as English as Fish & Chips. The sport’s birthplace was London in 1863, when “association football” and separately “rugby football” went their separate ways, and both sports became codified. Well over a century later, the Football Association is still the governing body of football in England, and the oldest in the world.

The Premier League is the crown jewel of the English football league system. Twenty teams play each year, and the four heavyweights include Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Arsenal. Recently, strong seasons from Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur have increased the heavyweights from four to six.  

As sports in the UK differ between the four regions, Scotland has its own league system. Its top clubs play in the Scottish Premier League, while Welsh teams can join either the English or the Welsh football league.

Although football has its critics, it plays an undeniable role in the economy of the UK. For every 1 GBP that the sports charity Football Foundation invests, 7.73 GBP is generated. The Premier League and its clubs also make a tax contribution to the UK exchequer totalling 2.4 billion GBP between 2013 and 2014, as well as making a contribution of 3.4 billion GBP to the UK GDP in the same year. The Premier League also invests its money in players, facilities, youth academies, and community projects.

Other Popular Sports

Don’t worry if football isn’t your cup of tea; other popular sports in the UK include rugby, cricket, golf, horseracing, and tennis. In addition to being the birthplace of football, London hosts the world’s oldest tennis tournament: Wimbledon. First held in 1877, the tournament takes place in late June or early July every year, and lasts for two weeks. It’s the only major tennis tournament still played on grass, keeping the tradition of “lawn tennis” alive.

Other annual top events for sports in the UK include the F1 British Grand Prix, Cartier International Polo, the British Open golf championship, the Oxford Cambridge Boat Races, the Royal Ascot Horse Races, and the Grand National horse races.

England isn’t the only part of the UK that has made a sport famous. Golf, at least in its modern  form, belongs to Scotland, and there were more than 2,600 golf courses in the UK in 2015. Golf is admittedly one of the more expensive activities. Regular golfers pay to join a club and are then charged an annual fee. In 2014, the average adult membership fee was 845 GBP for men and 848 GBP for women.

One Nation, Four Countries, How Many Teams?

When it comes to nation states, the United Kingdom is an anomaly. It is a country composed of four separate countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. For many sports titles, they compete separately. Each country has its own football team, though Wales and Scotland both belong to the United Kingdom, they competed separately in the same group for the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers.

However, there are times when these four nations group together to represent sports in the UK — the Olympics. The full official name is Great Britain and Northern Ireland Olympic team, but Team GB is still used for branding reasons.

The London 2012 Olympics

The London 2012 Olympics, which promised to “Inspire a Generation”, cost the UK 9.3 billion GBP. While the impact and legacy is disputed, it created several high quality sport facilities. The iconic London Aquatics Centre, for example, is now a popular swimming center for tourists, athletes, and the East London community with over 3,500 children taking swimming lessons every week. Similarly, the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre is also popular with both locals and professionals, and hosts the Wheelchair Tennis Championships every November.

Infrastructure of Britain’s Sport

With the topic of British sport comes the question of funding. There are an impressive number of organizations responsible for administrating, supporting, and financial backing. One important organization is UK Sport which is responsible for investing public money from the National Lottery and the Exchequer. Sport England also spends public funds on nurturing people’s interest and providing opportunities to participate in sport.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance is another important organization. It’s an umbrella association representing sports and recreation clubs across the UK. The alliance publishes reports about sports in the UK and related policy. However, despite the well-developed infrastructure for sports in the UK, only 49% of sports clubs operated with a surplus in 2016.

Joining a Sports Club

Whichever sport you fancy, you’ll find countless opportunities to join a club in the UK. From sailing to bowling, gymnastics to running, there are clubs for almost every sport imaginable in the UK — 151,000 in total in 2016!

In 2015, 43% of residents in the UK reported that they play a sport at least once a week, slightly higher than the European average of 41%.

If you prefer exercising indoors, there are countless health clubs and gyms across the UK. Membership costs vary greatly depending on the facilities, classes, and number of members.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 



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