I decided to rank the ten most popular sports in France. I gathered the numbers of membership on the official website in 2019 of every official sport 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 with 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 World Cup in 2019 was host 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 section.
The national league in France is the Ligue 1 and it is considered as the fifth position of the best European leagues. France won for the first time the World Cup in 1998 against Brazil when the country hosts it. Recently they won the World Cup of 2018 in Russia against Croatia, twenty years later. In between those two victories, the France men 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 Materazzi. France also lost the Euro Cup in 2016 against Portugal and France was hosting the competition this year. If you want to learn more about soccer, read my articles about football in France with:
Examples of French football players: Thierry Henry, Michel Platini, Zinédine Zidane, Kylian Mbappé, Patrick Vieira, and Hugo Lloris.
2 – Tennis (1 000 000 members)
France hosts one of the major world tennis tournaments 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 of 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 of good tennis players but none of them are in the world’s top 5 either men or women. France won the men’s Davis Cup ten times and won it for the last time in 2017. The French women 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 hosts some prestigious horse races like the Arcs de Triomphe in Paris on the racecourse of Longchamp or the race of the prize Jockey-Club that takes place in Chantilly.
Examples of French horsewomen and horsemen: Jacques Cariou (First Olympic Champion), Alexandra Ledermann, Hervé Godignon, Michel Robert, and Pierre Durand.
4 – Basketball (600 000 members)
France is the foreign county with the highest number of players in the NBA league (in the NBA there are the United States and Canada). 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.
Examples of French Basketball players: Tony Parker, Rudy Gobert, Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Frank Ntilikina, 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 in France 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-time 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.
Examples of French handball players: Didier Dinart, Thierry Omeyer, Nikola Karabatic, Jackson Richardson, and Jérôme Fernandez.
7 – Rugby (435 000 members)
Rugby is mostly a sport in France popular amongst men. 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 named Top 14 and they are amongst the best European teams and sometimes win the EuroCup, the Hcup (ASM Clermont, Stade Toulousain, RCT Rugby Club Toulonnais).
About the national team, they are just unpredictable, they can beat the best rugby nations as the All Blacks (New Zealand) and lose against the weaker nations like Italia. The best performance of the French Rugby team reached three times the World Cup final in 1987, 1999, and 2011.
Here is the quarter-final in 2007 against the All Blacks:
8 – Golf (410 000 members)
I have to be honest before this article I did not know much about Golf. France had some great players such as Arnaud Massy, Jean Van de Velde, Grégory Bourdy or Karine Icher.
9 – Canoë 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 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 prestigious sail races start in France as la Route du Rhum or the Vendée Globe starting in Vendée.
Examples of great French sailors: Éric Tabarly, Florence Arthaud, and Olivier de Kersauson.
I hope you liked discovering the popular sports in France and some fun facts about those sports. Speaking of fun facts I invite you to read my article about the Tour de France: 7 Fun Facts About the Tour de France.