Most Popular French Sports

France makes a perfect place to visit and live in with its romantic landscape and sexy language on top of its sophisticated culture. Go on a date, celebrate an achievement, or propose for the love of your life – the country has all the right of ambiance and scenery to make the occasion extra special. Undoubtedly, the French culture has become synonymous with romance and classic taste for food, music, and art.

But, the French people have another defining side, too – their intense passion for sports. The French give utmost importance to sports, as well as their athletes. The country had secured world titles proving its tenacity for athletics. It makes us wonder, “what are the most popular sports in France?” The French excel in quite several sports, including football, tennis, and cycling. Read down below as we explore these popular French sports and more.

FOOTBALL

Football (or soccer in the US) is undoubtedly the most popular and most anticipated sports event in France. With over two million members (approximately 180,000 of them are women), and 18,000 clubs registered to the country’s Fédération Française de Football, it is an understatement to say that French people fancy the sport. 

France is one of the only three countries to win back-to-back wins in major tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup, UEFA European Football Championships, and FIFA Confederations Cup. The team, composed of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 (each with 20 contending teams), is a force on the football field. Locally known as Les Bleus (The Blues), the team dons France’s blue, white, and red colors and storms the field with pride while thousands of French fans cheer for the nation’s pride. 

Notable football players: Eric Cantona, Didier Deschamps, Michel Platin, Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane

CYCLING

square insignia on a pavement showing the name ‘France’ and its flag at the center, surrounded by all other symbols unique to France 

Cycling may not be the most popular, but it is the biggest sport in France in terms of participation. France is home to “the world’s biggest annual snaking event,” the Tour de France. This cycling race, which happens annually every July, is a global attraction, drawing in about 12 million cycling enthusiasts every year to spectate the event in person. The event also garners an approximately 3.5 billion television audience worldwide per year. 

Aside from the Tour de France, other high-profile cycling events also take place in the circuits of France. These include Paris–Nice, the Critérium du Dauphiné, and the single-day race GP Ouest-France. The Critérium du Dauphiné is often a warm-up race for cyclists contending in the Tour de France).

Notable cyclists: Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil, Laurent Fignon, Louison Bobet

TENNIS

Second to football in terms of popularity is tennis. However, the sport also makes one of the French favorites held regularly in one of the world’s most prestigious clay courts. Annually, Tennis champions from all over the world would meet at the tennis Grand Slam tournament, Roland Garros (the French Open), to prove their supremacy. 

Although tennis was pretty famous in France, only a handful of French athletes have managed to earn championship titles. The last time a Frenchman won in the French Open was way back in 1983 by Yannick Noah, while a French woman, Mary Pierce, secured it in 2000.

Notable tennis players: Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet,                

RUGBY UNION

Another sports fan favorite in France is the Rugby Union. The sport may not receive the same national fame like football. Still, it is incredibly predominant in the country’s southern half, particularly in the Toulouse, the French Basque Country, and Catalonia. Despite being overshadowed by other team sports, the French rugby team is considered one of the strongest in the continent. According to the World Rugby Rankings, France currently ranks fifth (5th) for men’s national teams in rugby union. 

Notable rugby union players: Thierry Dusautoir, Sébastien Chabal

BASKETBALL

Court Philippe Chatrier during the 2013 French Open

Basketball has had a universal appeal ever since its invention in 1891; hence, it is no surprise that it is also a predominant sport even in France. The sport’s popularity can be accounted for the massive global commercialization of the sports, using the image of the legendary Michael Jordan and brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Converse.

France can also boast of the national basketball team, with a decent record in international competitions in years. The team has won its first championship during the EuroBasket 2013. In addition, it landed on runner-up positions like in the Summer Olympics (1948 and 2000), the EuroBasket (1949 and 2011). They also excelled in the FIBA World Cup in 2014 and 2019, garnering medals for the country. Some French basketball players also made it to the National Basketball Association (NBA), with 12 of them still actively playing in the league as of 2021.

Notable basketball players: Antoine Rigaudeau, Aymeric Jeanneau, Dominque Wilkins, Joakim Noah, Sacha Gifta, Tony Parker

MOTORSPORTS

With the strong roots of this extreme sport in European culture and history, it is not surprising that French people have an inseparable bond with motorsports. One of the most popular and elite motorsports is Formula One, highly respected and anticipated in France. The country is home to Formula One World’s Constructors’ Champions Matra and Renault. 

As a powerhouse of motorsports champions, France delivered superstars, including Formula One World Drivers’ Champion Alain Prost. It also produced winners in Formula Two and the International Formula 3000.

Moreover, France hosts the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans, which happens to be the world’s oldest sports car competition in endurance racing. French people also adore rallying, especially during the country’s two World Rally Championship events, namely Tour de Corse and Rallye d’Alsace.

Notable racers: Alain Prost, François Cevert, Didier Pironi, Jean Behra