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World’s sportiest countries revealed: where does the US rank?

January 19, 2021, 10:07 am

Most of us love some aspect of sport in one way or another. From the casual exercisers to the elite athletes, a huge amount of us have some involvement in sports.

However, it turns out that some countries are sportier than others. After comparing 150+countries, new research by Myprotein US has determined the top 20 sportiest countries in the world. Read on to see where the US ranks, and who brings home the gold!

The land down under comes out on top…

Using a normalized score based on countries’ sports participation rates, Olympic success, and elite sports performance, Myprotein’s research discovered that this country rakes in the gold. With their high sports participation and elite sports success rankings, Australia has ranked the sportiest country overall.

Australia did particularly well in the sports participation rankings, with 75% of the population participating in active recreation regularly, the 4th highest in the world. Their elite sport success also aided Australia’s overall first place title as world’s sportiest country. The Elite Sports Success ranking, a widely recognized ranking system which looks at the successes of every country in all sports, placed Australia in 6th place this year, two places up from last year.

In terms of Olympic performance, which was ranked by each countries’ total amount of medals won in all Olympic Games from 1896 to 2018, Australia placed 12th with 512 medals, including 152 gold.

…But the US is a close second!

The US closely follows Australia, placing in 2nd in the overall ranking. Indeed, the US was ranked 1st in both the Olympic and elite sports categories, but placed 24th in the sports participation rankings, dragging down the country’s average score and preventing them from taking the overall top spot.

Still, 2nd place out of over 150 countries is no mean feat! The US’ top ranking in the Olympic category is down to its huge total of 2,828 medals, 1,127 of which are gold. The country also boasts 12 Olympic world records. In addition to the US’ Olympic success, they also placed 1st in the Elite Sport Success ranking.

However, the US was let down somewhat by its sports participation rate, with only 51.5% of the population exercising regularly, landing the country in 24th place for this category.

The UK takes the bronze

Coming in third place in the UK, which had similar rankings to the US in the three categories. Like the US, the UK excelled in the elite sport and Olympic rankings but fell short in terms of sports participation.

The UK has taken home a total of 883 Olympic medals, including 274 gold, placing it in third for Olympic performance. The country also placed third for elite sports performance. The UK’s overall score was dragged down by its low activity rates, with only 54.1% of the population regularly exercising, putting the country in 21st place in the sports participation rankings.

Sports participation does not equal elite success – and vice versa

While the US may have taken the titles of most Olympic and elite sport success, they were far from the top of the table when it came to general sports participation. Interestingly, countries that performed relatively poorly in professional sports tended to have higher overall activity rates.

Indeed, the most recreationally active nation, Taiwan – with 80.7% of the population regularly exercising – ranked 70th in terms of Olympic performance. Other countries, such as New Zealand, with a participation rate of 79.1% yet an Olympic rank of 37th, showed a similar pattern. This is the inverse of the US and UK’s results, who both ranked highly in professional sports but poorly in terms of overall activity rates.

This may be due to certain countries investing more time and money into promoting sports as a career and training athletes to compete professionally. For example, the US is well known for offering sports college scholarships to promising young athletes and having them compete in highly competitive intercollegiate leagues in a range of sports, and the US and UK are both known for their significant investments in training their Olympic teams.

Walking is the most popular form of exercise

The sports participation survey (Global Wellness Institute’s ‘Global Economy of Physical Activity’ 2019 report) used to help determine Myprotein’s rankings also revealed which forms of exercise and sport are the most popular globally and on national levels.

Walking was by far the most popular activity, with 40-50% respondents saying they regularly walked for exercise. Running came second, with 15-20% of participants saying they run for exercise, and soccer came third, with 12-20% of people saying they enjoy playing.

The research also revealed some interesting regional differences in favored activities. For example, Europeans were the most likely to participate in activities such as walking and cycling. Meanwhile, those in the Middle East and Latin America preferred soccer.

Worldwide attitudes to sport vary hugely

What this research shows is the amazing diversity in attitudes to sport across the globe. As we can see, some countries, such as the US and UK, are highly invested in the competitive nature of sports, and this is reflected in their Olympic and elite successes. On the other hand, countries such as Taiwan and New Zealand take a more casual approach, enjoying exercise and sports on a casual basis and perhaps not so focused on being world champions.

The research also shows that the types of sports and exercise practiced in different countries varies significantly, with different regions preferring various activities. Europeans favored walking and cycling, while those in Latin America and the Middle East were more likely to be found playing a game of soccer.

Overall, in terms of sports success, Australia takes the number one spot. Their balance of competitive success and high general participation rates is truly a winning combination that earns them the title of the sportiest country.

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