The continent of Asia is a vast collection of cultures and identities, with over 40 countries and more than 4.5 billion people. Each country has its list of popular sports, but a few notable sports are expanding in popularity across nearly all Asian countries.
Some of these sports have only emerged recently, such as stream games in esports, for example, while others have been popular on other continents for a while now. With that in mind, here are the six fastest-growing sports in Asia.
China and Indonesia have been dominant forces in badminton for decades now, but they’re not the only Asian countries with a knack for rackets and shuttlecocks. In fact, there are at least four more Asian nations where badminton is rising to the top, namely Malaysia, India, Japan, and South Korea.
According to a recent survey, one in eight Malaysians prefers badminton as their main sport. In India, the sport is second only to cricket in terms of participation. Japan and Indonesia share similar stories of the sport’s rising success, with televised events being watched by millions of spectators nowadays.
Baseball is extremely popular in Japan. It’s a slightly different version of the game, with a smaller ball and strike zone, but that gives Japanese players an edge when it comes to accuracy. As proof of that statement, over 50 Japanese-born players have played in Major League Baseball.
The national baseball team has won the World Baseball Classic twice. The Nippon Professional Baseball leagues, Japan’s two pro-level tournaments, are world-renowned at this point, which has led to increased interest in the sport from neighboring countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Of all the emerging sports in Asia, basketball is the fastest-growing and most watched, by a significant margin. It’s the most popular sport in the Philippines, ranking among the top favorites in Taiwan as well. In China and Singapore, it’s in the top five at the very least, growing in popularity by the day.
At first, the only Asian country to win a FIBA Basketball World Cup was the Philippines, back in 1978. But China and Turkey have won two of the last three FIBA Basketball World Cups, demonstrating the continued growth of basketball in Asia, at least on a national level. In total, over 40 Asian countries will compete in the FIBA World Cup.
Asia was the first continent to embrace esports. It’s the world’s most important region for video game championships, accounting for over 50% of the multi-billion dollar global industry. It’s the host country for nearly all major international tournaments, with prizes that catapult players to celebrity-level fame.
Professional competitions draw millions of international spectators, mainly due to the fact that there’s no other region that can compete in terms of talent and tournament prestige. Last year, global viewership grew by over 20%, with games like Dota 2 and Starcraft 2 broadcast to arenas full of captivated supporters.
Golf was introduced to Asia centuries ago, but it has experienced a surge in players and spectators in recent years. Roughly one-third of all golf-course development projects are in Asia, with Thailand, South Korea, and Vietnam being responsible for the majority. In Thailand, golf is one of the main tourist sectors by per-capita spending.
Japan has its own PGA Tour, alongside the Asian Tour, which is the primary men’s golf tour in Asia. Individuals and teams from across Asia compete in the tour, and an increasing proportion of them have won international tournaments. Women’s golf has fared even better, with several female golf players who hold multiple major wins.
When Japan hosted the 2019 Rugby World Cup, rugby fans worldwide sat up and took notice. Japan’s national team displayed a level of grit and determination that earned the southern hemisphere’s respect and admiration, putting on a tenacious display to make it to the quarter-finals, where they lost to the current champions, South Africa.
Japan isn’t the only Asian nation with rugby as a national sport. Asia Rugby, the governing body of rugby in Asia, has over 30 member unions. There were only eight original members, and at least seven nations have joined within the last two years. Clearly, there’s growing interest in this physically demanding yet exhilarating sport.
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