5. Most played sports in Canada

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5.1 Canadians participated in many sports but were most active in a few key ones

Adult Canadians 15 years and over are involved in over 100 sports ranging from bobsleigh to ice hockey. Numerically, few of the sports attract a large number of participants. According to the GSS, golf engaged the largest number of adult Canadians in 2005, as it had in 1998.

Almost 1.5 million adult Canadians were golfers in 2005, with males representing over three quarters (78%) of the participants. Among the 30 most popular sports in Canada, ice hockey ranked second behind golf, drawing 1.3 million Canadians. Other popular sports include swimming, soccer, basketball, baseball and volleyball. Each of these drew between 500,000 and 800,000 participants.

A key characteristic of these sports is that they are mostly team sports and involve players, officials and spectators. On occasion, whole families may be involved, with some members active as participants, others serving as volunteers, and some coming to watch. The result is an inherent shared experience among all those involved, an experience that may spill over to the community at large, providing a sense of belonging.

Chart 9
Active participation rates in the top ten sports, 1998 and 2005

There are other popular sports that engage relatively few active participants in Canada but attract many spectators and volunteers. Sports such as football, gymnastics, and tennis are typical examples. They each attract between 200,000 and 400,000 active participants.

One of the emerging sports in Canada is mountain-boarding.9 In 1998, 81,000 people reported participating in the sport. By 2005, this number had more than doubled, reaching 167,000.

In 1998, baseball was in the top three in popularity, with more than 1.3 million participating nationwide. By 2005, it had dropped to sixth place, almost switching places with soccer which was in seventh place in 1998. Soccer ranked fourth overall in 2005.

Among the top ten sports, soccer is the only sport that showed an increase (one percentage point) in the participation rate between 1998 and 2005. Participation in other sports decreased over the period.

Chart 10
Active participation rates in the top ten sports by sex, 2005

5.2 Choice of sport depends on gender

Gender differences exist when it comes to sport. Popular among women are sports such as swimming, golf, soccer, volleyball, and downhill skiing. Men are mostly attracted to ice hockey, golf, basketball, soccer, and baseball. Swimming, which came in first for women, ranked eight in popularity for men. The most popular sport for men (ice hockey) had a much higher participation rate (26%) than did swimming (19%) for women.

Table 6
Most practised sports by Canadians, 20051