Many claim that volleyball is the fifth most popular sport in the world considering the number of fans it has. What is more, with the 220 national federations under the umbrella of the FIVB, some say volleyball is one of the sports with the highest number of recreational participants globally. But what does the actual data say about that?

We have examined more than 30 public documents reporting the amount of volleyball participation for various countries across six continents. We have measured what percentage of the population takes part in the sport in each of the 30+ countries and compared the results to find out where participation is highest amongst the population.

The different data was gathered by undertaking surveys by public sector institutions (e.g. sports federations, departments and ministries of sport) or private organisations (e.g. Deloitte), asking people what their sporting habits are. A sample of respondents is chosen which, if representative of the entire population, can provide a clear picture of participation rates and trends.

 

However, as it is difficult to get unanimous, comparable data across countries, the results are relying heavily on the survey criteria. For example, two countries can report two different participation rates, even though they may have a similar percentage of the population playing volleyball – if the question in one of the surveys is ‘How many adults over 25 play volleyball at least once a week?’ while the question in the other being ‘Have you played volleyball in the past year?’. That is why we have given you the survey criteria for most of the individual reports.

Secondly, some samples are not representative of the entire population, as is the case with the Brazilian survey done by Deloitte, which takes into account mostly people from the Sao Paulo metropolitan area and its adjacent regions. 

Thirdly, some of the data is already rather old. For example, although the Italian document has been published in 2005, the latest data collected in it is from the year 2000. Therefore, for 15 years many things could have changed and the percentages might be totally different now.

Finally, there are some notable absences in terms of countries present in our comparison. For various reasons, we couldn’t find any data about volleyball nations like Cuba, Russia, China and Iran, as well as about other key nations such as India, Argentina, Greece, etc.

Nevertheless, despite the limitations of this approach, we can observe interesting trends if we focus on the trends and not just on the individual results.

 

What does the data show?

First thing to say is that one should not be put off by the percentages which seem rather low in some cases and extremely low in others. The lowest participation rates in sport across almost the entire world, especially for people over 25 years of age, are for team sports. With sports participation rates in general ranging between 20% and 60-70%, anything above 2-3% for volleyball is huge.

If we look at the data, Poland leads with a questionable 13.8%, followed surprisingly by Qatar with 10%. The top 5 is completed with having three volleyball nations – Italy, Turkey and Brazil with 6.7%, 6% and 5% respectively. The other members of the top 10 are Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Japan and, curiously, New Zealand.

The big sporting powerhouses like the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Spain, France, etc. show disappointing results with very low participation rates. We have also found documents about countries like South Africa, Ireland and parts of the UK (Scotland, Northern Ireland) where data about volleyball was not present in the report, implying that the participation rates are zero or close to zero. Germany was the only established sporting economy with a relatively high levels of participation – 3.8%.

Lastly, this data shows once again that the popularity of volleyball is not spread evenly across the globe. The sport is very big in the developing world, particularly in the Middle East, North Africa, the Levant, Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and Brazil. In Europe, the sport is popular only in an isolated group of nations such as Poland, Italy and Turkey.

 Photo Source: www.keene.edu

A comparison of volleyball participation between countries
 CountryName of Document/ReportYear of PublicationParticipation CriteriaParticipation RatesNotes
1.PolandUczestnictwo Polakow w Sporcie I Rekreacji Ruchowej2012The participation of household members in sports and recreational activities
depending on the selected forms of activity (in%)
13.8% 
2.QatarPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation10% 
3.ItalyLo sport che cambia I comportamenti emergenti e le nuove tendenze della pratica sportiva in Italia2005Persons aged 3 and over who practice sports regularly for
type of sport
6.7%Although the document is published in 2005, the latest data is from year 2000
4.TurkeySPOR
İSTATİSTİKLERİ
2006Percentage of participation in sports activities in the reference month by sports branch and sex,6%Volleyball here is in the same branch with football and basketball, therefore the 6% are a combined total for the three sports
5.BrazilMuito além do futebol. Estudo sobre esportes no Brasil. Deloitte.2011What sports do you practice?’5%Most respondents were from the Sao Paulo region
6.MoroccoPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation5% 
7.PalestinePopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation5% 
8.Saudi ArabiaPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation5% 
9.JapanSurvey of Leisure Activities2012At least once a year≈ 5%Males (4.7%), Females (5.2%)
10.New ZealandActive New Zealand Survey2007/2008Over 12 months4.4% 
11.EgyptPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation4% 
12.SyriaPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation4% 
13.GermanyStatista.de2014% people aged 14+ attracted to the sport of volleyball3.8% 
14.IraqPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation3% 
15.UAEPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation3% 
16.YemenPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation3% 
17.LebanonPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation2% 
18.OmanPopularity and Participation of Sports in the Middle East and North Africa2011Regular participation2% 
19.SpainESTADÍSTICA 20132013People’s most preferred sport to participate1.6% 
20.FranceATLAS NATIONAL DES FÉDÉRATIONS SPORTIVES 2012№ people holding a licence1.43%The document measures the number and % of licences
21.USAParticipation by US Adults in Sports, Exercise, and Recreational Physical Activities (Ham et al., 2009)2009Once a Month1.3% 
22.AustraliaParticipation in Exercise, Recreation and Sport2010Regular Participation1.2%Includes Newcombe Ball
23.NetherlandsBijlagen Rapportage sport 20142014Over the past 12 months1.2%For people aged over 20 years old.
24.DenmarkDanskernes motionsog
sportsvaner
2011Regularly in the past year1%4% of Danes have played volleyball at least once in the previous year
25.BulgariaНикога не е късно за ново начало.2011Which sport are you taking part in at the moment?0.6% 
26.SingaporeNational Sports Participation Survey2011Sports practiced regularly0.4%2% of teenagers play volleyball regularly
27.SwedenStatens stöd till idrotten2012 0.09% 
28.PortugalESTATÍSTICAS DO DESPORTO 1996-20092009 0.08% 
29.EnglandActive People Survey2015Once a Week0.07% 
30.CanadaCanadian Heritage Sport Participation 2010Regular participation0.02%7.5% of active sportspeople play volleyball in Canada
31.WalesActive Adults Survey2012Last four weeks≈ 0%