most popular sports in sri lanka

In 2024, Sri Lanka continues to be a nation deeply enamoured with sports, where the spirit of competition and athletic fervour run high.

While cricket undeniably reigns as the undisputed king of sports in this tropical paradise, the sporting landscape is far from being a one-dimensional affair.

With a rich tapestry of sporting pursuits that span a wide spectrum of disciplines, Sri Lanka’s sports enthusiasts find themselves engrossed in a diverse array of athletic endeavours.

From the thundering cheers of cricket stadiums to the fervent support for football, rugby, and other traditional favourites, this island nation revels in the thrill of competition.

In this list, we explore the top 10 most popular sports in Sri Lanka for the year 2024, celebrating the passion and dedication of a nation that finds unity and joy through the language of sports.

Below is the list of the top 10 most popular sports in Sri Lanka: 

Sr. No.Sport
1Cricket
2Watersports
3Rugby Union
4Football
5Auto racing
6Netball
7Volleyball
8Baseball
9Basketball
10Powerlifting

Below are the details of the top 10 most popular sports in Sri Lanka:

1. Cricket:

Cricket stands as the undisputed king of sports in Sri Lanka, holding the title of one of the most popular sports in Sri Lanka.

This enduring passion for cricket is underscored by Sri Lanka’s esteemed status as one of the twelve full members actively engaged in test cricket, regarded as the most challenging and prestigious form of the game.

Additionally, Sri Lanka proudly occupies a place among the select seven nations that have achieved the ultimate cricketing glory by clinching a Cricket World Cup.

The British colonial era ushered in cricket to the island, with its inception dating back to the early 1800s. The earliest documented reference to cricket in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) can be traced to a report published in the Colombo Journal on September 5, 1832, which fervently called for the establishment of a cricket club.

Following this clarion call, the Colombo Cricket Club came into existence, and cricket matches commenced in November 1832.

Over the years, the sport has flourished domestically, marked by significant events such as the inception of the Premier Trophy in 1938 and the Premier Limited Overs Tournament in the 1988-89 season.

Sri Lanka’s entry onto the international cricket stage began with their one-day international debut in the 1975 Cricket World Cup.

In 1981, they achieved the coveted Test cricket status from the International Cricket Council, becoming the eighth Test-playing nation.

Remarkably, Sri Lanka’s national cricket team underwent a meteoric rise during the 1990s, transitioning from underdog status to a formidable cricketing powerhouse.

Notably, they clinched the Cricket World Cup in 1996, shared the ICC Champions Trophy with India in 2002, secured the 2014 ICC World Twenty20 title, and attained runner-up positions in the 2007 and 2011 Cricket World Cups, as well as in the ICC World Twenty20 tournaments in 2009 and 2012.

Steering the cricketing affairs in Sri Lanka is Sri Lanka Cricket, formerly known as the Board for Cricket Control in Sri Lanka (BCCSL).

This governing body assumes responsibility for overseeing cricket in the nation, including managing the Sri Lanka national cricket team, the Sri Lanka A cricket team, the Sri Lanka national women’s cricket team, and administering first-class cricket competitions within Sri Lanka.

2. Watersports:

One of the most popular sports in Sri Lanka is Watersports. Water sports in Sri Lanka offer a thrilling array of activities that cater to adventure seekers and water enthusiasts. These exciting water sports have become some of the most popular recreational activities in Sri Lanka:

1. Snorkelling: Explore the vibrant underwater world of Sri Lanka by snorkelling in locations like Pigeon Island, Hikkaduwa Beach, and Kalpitiya Beach, where you can encounter tropical fishes, colourful coral reefs, and even shipwrecks.

2. White Water Rafting: Enjoy an adrenaline-pumping experience on the Kelani River, navigating through rapids and turbulent waters, making it a must-try adventure.

3. Deep Sea Fishing: Test your fishing skills in the deep waters of Sri Lanka, accompanied by experienced crew members, for a rewarding and thrilling fishing experience.

4. Scuba Diving: Dive into the mesmerising underwater world of Hikkaduwa, where you can swim with marine life and explore the mysteries of the sea.

5. Windsurfing: Ride the waves and feel the wind in your sails while windsurfing on the crystal-clear waters of Sri Lanka’s palm-fringed beaches like Arugam Bay.

6. Kayaking: Enjoy a serene and wildlife-filled experience as you paddle through Sri Lanka’s rivers, surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty.

7. Wakeboarding: Try this unique water sport that combines elements of water skiing, surfing, and snowboarding, promising ultimate fun and adventure.

8. Seaplane Ride: Embark on a breathtaking journey over the waters and skies of Sri Lanka, offering a unique perspective of the country’s beauty.

9. Canoeing: Share cheerful moments with your partner as you canoe through scenic rivers, immersing yourselves in the stunning views of the landscape.

10. Water Skiing: Feel your heart race as you glide on the water waves with precision, with great spots for this thrilling activity in Negombo and Hikkaduwa.

These water sports not only provide exhilarating experiences but also showcase the natural beauty and diverse landscapes of Sri Lanka, making them some of the most sought-after activities for both locals and tourists in this vibrant island nation.

3. Rugby union:

Rugby union ranks as one of Sri Lanka’s prominent and beloved sports, securing its position as one of the most popular sports in Sri Lanka.

Despite the absence of a fully-fledged professional rugby union league, the sport enjoys widespread popularity, thriving even at semi-professional and recreational levels.

Its introduction to the island dates back to the distant year of 1879, underlining its enduring presence in Sri Lanka’s sporting landscape.

Overseeing the sport’s affairs is the Sri Lankan Rugby Football Union, an institution with historical significance dating back to 1908, originally known as the Ceylon Rugby Football Union.

While Sri Lanka’s national rugby team has not yet qualified for the Rugby World Cup, recent years have witnessed significant achievements and successes for the team, igniting hope and enthusiasm among rugby enthusiasts in the country.

As a testament to its popularity and reach, the number of licensed Rugby union players in Sri Lanka currently stands at an impressive 121,938, demonstrating the sport’s enduring appeal and participation levels among the population.

4. Football:

Football claims its position as one of Sri Lanka’s widely embraced and cherished sports, securing the fourth spot among the most popular sports in Sri Lanka.

While Sri Lanka may not host a fully professional football league, the sport enjoys a remarkable level of popularity, transcending into semi-professional and recreational domains.

Its roots on the island trace back to 1890 when the very first football game was played, marking a significant milestone in its historical journey.

The governing body responsible for overseeing all aspects of football in Sri Lanka is the Football Federation of Sri Lanka, an institution established in 1939.

This organisation plays a pivotal role in administering the national football team and managing the Sri Lanka Football Premier League, which stands as the premier football competition in the nation.

Much like rugby union, the absence of a fully-fledged professional league does not dampen the fervour for football in Sri Lanka, where the sport maintains a strong and enduring following. This passion is a testament to its enduring popularity among the populace.

5. Autoracing:

Auto racing has carved out a distinctive niche as one of Sri Lanka’s cherished and traditional sporting endeavours, securing its place as the fifth most popular sports in Sri Lanka.

Surprisingly, auto racing enjoys a considerable following on the island, with a calendar filled with racing events taking place throughout the year.

Notable among these events are the Fox Hill Motocross, Gajaba Supercross, and Commando Supercross, all organised by the Sri Lanka Association of Racing Drivers and Riders, a key governing body for the sport.

Notably, Sri Lanka boasts an internationally acclaimed racing talent in Dilantha Malagamuwa, who serves as a proud representative of the country on the global racing stage.

His remarkable achievements include clinching victory in the GT Asia Series in both 2010 and 2016, solidifying his status as the most renowned Sri Lankan racing driver.

This success story contributes to the thriving interest and enthusiasm for auto racing in Sri Lanka, underlining its enduring popularity among motorsport enthusiasts.

6. Netball:

Netball has secured its place as one of Sri Lanka’s cherished and widely appreciated sports, rounding out the list as the fifth most popular sports in Sri Lanka. 

The roots of netball in Sri Lanka stretch back to the year 1921, marking its inception in the country’s sporting landscape.

It gained significant momentum when it was first played at the Government Training College in 1927, a pivotal development that played a crucial role in popularising the sport across the island.

A significant milestone in the evolution of netball in Sri Lanka occurred during the 1960 netball meeting of Commonwealth countries, which took place within the country. This gathering led to the standardisation of the rules governing the sport, further cementing its status within the nation.

Notably, Sri Lanka boasts a strong presence in international netball, with the women’s national netball team holding an impressive ranking of 15th in the world.

This accomplishment underscores the nation’s commitment to the sport and the remarkable success achieved on the global stage, contributing to the enduring popularity of netball in Sri Lanka.

7. Volleyball:

Volleyball holds the distinction of being Sri Lanka’s national sport, and it is one of the most popular sports in Sri Lanka.

This team sport involves two opposing teams, each comprising six players and a net that divides the court.

The objective for both teams is to accumulate points by successfully delivering the ball to the opposing team’s court, following a set of well-defined and organised rules.

In the sports landscape of Sri Lanka, volleyball stands out as a beloved and cherished pastime. It serves as a testament to the nation’s enthusiasm for team sports and fosters a sense of unity and camaraderie among players and fans alike.

8. Baseball:

Baseball was introduced to Sri Lanka during the mid-1980s through the collaborative efforts of the US Embassy, responding to a request from former Minister Hon, Festus Perera.

To promote the sport, four teams were established, namely the Sri Lanka Air Force Baseball Club, Shakthi Baseball Club, GoldFish Baseball Club, and Royal College Baseball Club. Initially, friendly baseball matches were organised at Havelock Park in Colombo, where the US Embassy staff actively participated alongside the local teams.

Over time, baseball has become one of the most popular sports in Sri Lanka and the nation earned a place to compete in its inaugural tournament, the Asian Baseball Cup, which took place in the Philippines in 1995.

This marked a significant milestone for Sri Lankan baseball enthusiasts. In a remarkable development in 2009, the Sri Lanka national baseball team successfully qualified for the 2009 Asian Baseball Championship, marking their debut in this prestigious competition.

This achievement underscored the growing interest and progress of baseball in Sri Lanka, solidifying its position as one of the emerging and promising sports in the country.

9. Basketball:

The introduction of basketball to Sri Lanka dates back to 1917 when American Walter Cammak brought the sport to the country.

A significant milestone occurred a decade later in 1927 when Ananda College became the pioneering school to introduce basketball to Sri Lanka.

This move paved the way for other schools to embrace the sport and incorporate it into their athletic programs.

In 1958, a pivotal moment in Sri Lankan basketball history took place with the establishment of the Ceylon Basketball Federation (CBF). The CBF’s formation marked a significant step towards the growth and organisation of basketball in the nation.

Notably, just a year later in 1959, the CBF was admitted to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), highlighting Sri Lanka’s inclusion on the global basketball stage.

Further solidifying its presence in the international basketball community, Sri Lanka joined the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) in 1962. Since then, Sri Lanka has been an active participant in numerous ABC competitions, demonstrating its commitment to the sport’s development and competitive spirit.

Basketball has gradually evolved and gained popularity in Sri Lanka, making it one of the most popular sports in Sri Lanka and cherished sports in the country’s athletic landscape.

10. Powerlifting:

Powerlifting in Sri Lanka has witnessed remarkable achievements as both male and female athletes have risen to prominence on the international stage.

A standout moment occurred in 2021 when a contingent of six Sri Lankan powerlifters delivered exceptional performances.

They demonstrated their prowess by clinching an impressive total of 14 gold medals during the Asian Classic Equipped Bench Press and Powerlifting Championships, a prestigious competition hosted in Istanbul, Turkey.

These remarkable achievements not only reflect the dedication and skill of Sri Lankan powerlifters but also contribute to the growing recognition and popularity of powerlifting as the most popular sports in Sri Lanka.

Their success highlights powerlifting as one of the noteworthy and esteemed sports within the country, garnering attention and admiration from both athletes and fans alike.

Also, check out Top 10 Most Popular Sports in Asia

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