I decided to rank the ten most popular sports in France. I gather the numbers of membership on the official website in 2019 of every official sports federations and rounded the numbers. Just to give you an order, the French population is around 67 million inhabitants.
1 – Football: 2 200 000 members and 180 000 women members
Instead of the United States, football (sorry I do not want to use the term soccer) is mostly a male sport and not only in France. The last Women’s World Cup in 2019 was hosted by France and the general public and the media were really into this competition. This event would help in the future to develop this sport in the women’s section.
The national league in France is the Ligue 1 and it is at the fifth position of the best European leagues. France won for the first time the World Cup in 1998 against Brazil, when the country host it. Recently they won the World Cup of 2018 in Russia against Croatia, twenty years later. In between those two victories, the French men’s team lost the World Cup Final in 2006 against Italia. All the French will never forget the famous headbutt of the French player Zinédine Zidane against Materrazzi. France also lost the Euro Cup in 2016 against Portugal, and France was hosting the competition this year.
Examples of French football players: Thierry Henry, Michel Platini, Zinédine Zidane, Kylian Mbappé, Patrick Vieira, Hugo Lloris
Here an article I wrote about a French slang in football What is a Footix in France?
2 – Tennis: 1 000 000 members
France hosts one of the major world tennis tournament in Paris: Roland Garros. The last French winner was Yannick Noah in 1983, now he is a famous French singer. I don’t know if one day a French will win it again and Facebook pages like “La Fédération de Loose” tease a lot the French tennis men and women about being bad. For your information, the son of Yannick Noah, plays in the NBA league: Joakim Noah. France has a lot a good tennis players but none of them are in the world top 5 either men or women. France won the Davis Cup for ten times and won it for the last time in 2017. The French women’s team won the Fed cup in 2019.. not bad 🙂
Examples of French tennis players: Yannick Noah, Gaël Monfils, Amélie Mauresmo and Wilfried Tsonga
3 – Horse riding: 670 000 members
I am not familiar with this sport even though some of my family members used to practice this sport. France is famous for horse breeding especially in the state of Normandy and the area of the Forez. The country host some prestigious horse races like the Arcs de Triomphe in Paris on the racecourse of Longchamp or the race of the prize Jocket-Club that takes place in Chantilly.
4 – Basketball: 600 000 members
France is the country with the highest number of foreign players in the NBA league (The USA and Canada are not foreign countries). Unfortunately, in Europe France does not have at least a team to compete in the EuroLeague. On the other hand, the National team is a really competitive team, the last big success was to win against the team USA in the World cup of 2019 at the quarter-final. The biggest rivalry in this sport is against Spain, I love to watch those games.
Examples of French Basketball players: Tony Parker, Rudy Gobert, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Frank Ntilikina, Vincent Poirier and much more
5 – Judo-jujitsu: 550 000 members
France had and has great sportsmen in this sport. David Douillet was one of the best in the heavy category (2 times Olympic champion / 4 times World champion / 1 time Europe champion) but right now the French sportsman Teddy Riner is just impressive with all the sports titles that he won and might win in the future (2 times Olympic champion / 10 times world champion / 5 times Europe champion)
6 – Handball: 510 000 members
Here we are talking about a sport where France is probably the best country for the last twenty years, competing mostly with the Nordic European countries. This team is six times World champion, two times Olympic champion and three times Europe champion. Before 1995, the national men’s team did not win any trophies. The Women’s national team won two times the World cup and one time the Europe cup.
7 – Rugby: 435 000 members
Rugby is mostly popular amongst the men in France. Compared to the other sports in France, rugby is located mostly in the south of France plus Paris. The French teams play in the league name Top 14 and they are amongst the best European team and sometimes win the Champion cup (ASM Clermont, Stade Toulousain, RCT Rugby Club Toulonnais). The national team, it is an unpredictable team, it can beat the best rugby nations as the All Blacks (New Zealand) and loss against the weakest like Italia. The best performance of the French Rugby team reached three times the World Cup final in 1987, 1999 and 2011.
Here the quarter-final in 2007 against the All Blacks
8 – Golf: 410 000 members
I have to be honest, before this article (and after) I did not know much about Golf. France had some great players as Arnaud Massy, Jean Van de Velde, Grégory Bourdy or Karine Icher.
9 – Canoe Kayak: 380 000 members
France has many rivers going through it and a lot of mountains like the Alps or the Pyrenees. The best sportsman that France had in this sport was Tony Estanguet three times Olympic champion. He is now working on hosting the Olympic games of Paris 2024.
10 – Sailing 300 000 members
Some sail races start in France as la Route du Rhum or the Vendée Globe starting in Vendée 🙂
Some great French sailors Éric Tabarly, Florence Arthaud or Olivier de Kersauson
I hope you liked discovering the sports in France and the fun facts that I give to you. Speaking of fun facts, I invite you to read my article about the Tour de France 7 Fun facts about the Tour de France