It is not very hard to state that football — or soccer, as the Americans call it — is the most popular sport in Brazil. However, other modalities are gaining ground and supporters. Find out in this article what the main sports are among Brazilians.
There is a popular saying in Brazil that every kid dreams of becoming a professional football player. This might not be entirely true, but it definitely says a lot about the local sport preferences. Soccer is a national passion, but nowadays, for many people, it is not the only one.
Other sports are becoming more and more popular for different reasons. There is no doubt that the ease of watching anything nowadays is a major factor, especially since broadcasters are now airing international competitions of diverse modalities, and due to live streaming services.
Unfortunately, Brazil does not have updated numbers or a trustworthy ranking that could clearly measure the most popular sports in the country. Most recent available data is from 2006, but many sports — like mixed martial arts, for example — have gained bigger significance after this period.
Since it is not possible to quantify precisely the number of practitioners of each sport, the list below will introduce the ones that are more commonly watched as well. Although it does not provide an exact notion, it brings a complete overview of today's relation between Brazilians and sports.
1) Football or Soccer
Football is Brazil’s favorite sport, period. According to FIFA (Fedération Internationale de Football Association), there are 13.2 million football players in Brazil, not considering those who practice it merely for fun. Brazil is known as the country of some of the most talented players in the world, and is the only national team which has won five FIFA World Cup titles.
Also, football matches occupy the prime time of some of Brazil’s main TV channels, and every four years, when the FIFA World Cup happens, most Brazilians are allowed to work part-time — or to not work at all — when the National Team plays.
No other sport can match Football’s popularity, but Volleyball is probably the one that gets closer. Not only is it the most practiced sport by young girls in the country, but it is also one of the few sports broadcasted regularly by free-to-air TV stations.
When Atlas do Esporte Brasileiro, the research document on the practice of sports in Brazil, was released in 2006, there were 15.3 million practitioners in the country, counting both pros and amateurs. The responsible entities for this sport believe this number has grown ever since.
It is not hard to understand why Swimming is popular in a country that has a coast with more than 7,000 km. People usually do not watch swimming competitions a lot, except when Olympic or Pan American Games are happening, but the number of swimmers in Brazil is very big: most of them learn how to swim when they are young. It might be important to highlight that saying you do not know how to swim may seem a bit strange to some Brazilians.
Athletics is not one single sport, but a group of them, which helps make this popular. But different modalities related to Running and Jumping are encouraged by teachers in many public schools, even though competitors complain about the lack of investment on the professional competitors by the government.
5) Futsal and Beach Soccer
Both Futsal and Beach Soccer - known as Futebol de Areia - are variations from the country's most popular sport, and were created in Brazil. The first one refers to indoor football, where each team has only five players and the court is smaller than a regular pitch. It is very popular among young students, since it is easier to find an indoor court than a football pitch available.
The second one is the football version played in a sand pitch. The abundance of beaches also explains the popularity of this sport.
Even though Judo is not so hyped nowadays as other similar sports in Brazil, it is considered the most practiced martial art in the country. The 2006 Atlas do Esporte Brasileiro states that more than 2 million people practicing Judo, which was originally invented in Japan. Kids and youngsters are responsible for a big share in the number of practitioners.
Even though Capoeira is recognized as a sport, some affirm that it is more similar to a dance or merely to a cultural expression. It was created as a derivation of dances and rituals developed by African slaves during Brazil’s colonial period.
Nowadays, people from various ages and economical classes practice Capoeira, since it is seen as a beneficial activity since it improves reflex, circulation and motor coordination. When Atlas do Esporte Brasileiro, the document that researched the practice of sports in Brazil, was released in 2006, there were 6 million practitioners in the country.
There are famous professional Brazilian surfers nowadays, like Gabriel Medina, for example, but Surfing is more popular as an amateur sport. Brazil has several beaches suitable for it, and it is one of the most popular extreme sports in the country. It is hard to not find a surfer while you are visiting a Brazilian beach. Variations of this sport - like Bodyboarding and Standup Paddle - are also popular.
Like in any other country, Skateboarding is practiced mainly by young people, although there are some older supporters as well. Brazil is the homeland of famous competitors like Sandro Dias and Bob Burnquist, and hosting important tournaments like the X Games has helped boosting the popularity of this sport. Its influence, though, is limited to the urban areas.
Brazil might even have a basketball hall of famer - Oscar Schmidt, known as "Holy Hand" or Mão Santa. It might also have gained popularity with important titles like the 1987 Pan American Games medal against the United States. But the popularity peak of this sport might be happening right now.
Even though Brazil is not yet considered a strong country in Basketball, the hiring of Brazilian players by the National Basketball Association (NBA), the wider broadcasting of this sport, and even the scheduling of NBA games in Brazil are some of the main popularity boosters nowadays.
11) Table Tennis
Do not underestimate Table Tennis. This modality is far from being the most watched sport in Brazil, but it is widely played by amateurs. Data from 2006 pointed out that Table Tennis was the third most practiced sport in Brazil, with 12 million practitioners, losing only to Football and Volleyball.
The Brazilian Table Tennis Confederation (CBTM) claims that there are currently 24 million practitioners, including amateurs, based on the calculation of the number of tables sold. There are only 24,000 registered players at CBTM, though.
Handball is one of the most taught sports in Brazilians schools, alongside Football and Volleyball. Yet, its practice in the country is very limited, since there is a lack of structured professional competitions. Players with more potential usually leave Brazil to play abroad, but recently the good results in the Olympic Games, for example, have been raising some interest around this modality.
13) Mixed Martial Arts
Perhaps one of the sports that gained more ground recently, the Mixed Martial Arts, known simply as MMA, was benefitted mostly by the success of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in Brazil.
Due to the success of many Brazilian fighters, like Anderson Silva and José Aldo, the number of supporters grew impressively. The practice of MMA has not increased in the same way seen with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but many Brazilians go to bars at late night to watch the fights. This made UFC bring several events to Brazil, and also proportioned the creation of a Brazilian version of UFC’s TV reality show.
Tennis is one of those sports that in Brazil are associated to wealthier people. Like Golf and Equestrianism, there are not a lot of people that practice this sport, and the number of spectators is relatively low when compared to the size of the Brazilian population.
Tennis became more popular in the end of the 1990’s with Gustavo Kuerten’s performances, and won some fans in the past years that support foreign players, like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal.
15) Auto Racing
This is one of the few sports that is broadcasted regularly by free-to-air TV stations, along with Volleyball and, of course, Football. The most popular modality is Formula 1, but other types of races like Stock Car are gaining ground. The most practiced form of this sport by amateur is Kart Racing.
Brazilians have a through passion for sports, and it is no wonder that the country is one of the main markets of several sport related brands. Some other modalities are also widely practiced, like the mixture of Beach Soccer and Volleyball, Futvôlei, which is seen more as a hobby than as a sport.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is also very popular. Most practitioners take classes at gyms, and some do so just in as a hobby or in order to get fit. Unfortunately, the audience of this sport competitions', though, is far from significant in the country.
Some other sports have a solid fan base, but are practiced by a tiny number of people. The most notorious case is American Football, but Rugby is also growing in the country.
At last, there is Golf, which is seen in Brazil as an elite sport. Due to the lack of golf courses and since the equipment is expensive; this modality is practiced only by a small share of the population.