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What is sports tourism?

What is sports tourism?

There is no doubt that sports tourism is rapidly growing around the world. It combines the passion for sports with the desire to explore new destinations. It entails traveling for the purpose of participating in, attending, or watching a sporting event. Its unique appeal lies in its ability to unite people from around the world, creating a shared experience that transcends cultural, geographical, and language barriers.


The sports travel and tourism market is vast and encompasses a wide range of activities, from international sporting events such as the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games and World Cup Football, to local competitions and recreational activities like hiking, skiing, and golfing. As a result, it caters to a diverse audience, which includes athletes, spectators, and enthusiasts who seek active vacations.


Definition of sports tourism?

According to CBI (2023) a sports tourism trip is defined as a holiday away from home for the purpose of watching a major sporting event or participating in an organized sporting event/activity as an individual or as part of a group.


Driving forces behind sports travel and tourism

One of the driving forces behind the growth of sports travel and tourism is the increasing interest in sports and fitness. The global health and wellness trend has fuelled a desire for more active and engaging vacations, leading travellers to seek out destinations that offer a variety of sports and recreational activities.


Another key factor is the appeal of major international sporting events. Global sporting events attract millions of visitors, generating significant economic benefits for host countries and cities.


Furthermore, the rise of social media and online platforms has made it easier for sports enthusiasts to connect with like-minded individuals, share experiences, and discover new destinations, further fuelling the growth of the sports tourism industry.


History of sports tourism

The history of sports tourism can be traced back to ancient times when people used to travel to witness and participate in athletic competitions. Though debatable, athletic contests were first organised in Greece around 3000 years ago (Encyclopaedia of Britannica, 2023).


The ancient Olympic Games held at Olympia by the end of the 6th century BCE. These games used to attract athletes and spectators from all over the Greek world, making it one of the earliest instances of sports tourism.


In more recent history, the modern Olympic Games have played a significant role in the development of sports related tourism. The event not only revitalized the ancient tradition of traveling for sports but also helped to establish the concept of international sporting events as catalysts for tourism.


Similarly, the FIFA World Cup has grown to become one of the world’s most popular sports events, drawing millions of visitors to the host country every four years.


Types of sports tourism


Hard sport tourism

Hard sport tourism involves travel for the purpose of participating in or watching competitive sporting events at a professional level. These can include major international events like the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, or the Tour de France, as well as smaller, regional competitions.


This type of tourism attracts a diverse range of tourists, from die-hard fans who are passionate about supporting their favourite teams or athletes, to casual spectators who enjoy the excitement and would like to be part of great moments.


There are many factors that can influence the success of a hard sport tourism event, such as the reputation of the host city, the popularity of the sport, the quality of the facilities, and the affordability of travel and accommodation.


Soft sport Tourism

Soft sport tourism, on the other hand, involves travel for the purpose of participating in or watching non-competitive sporting activities, such as recreational sports, outdoor adventures, or wellness retreats.


This type of tourism is often focused on the enjoyment of the activity itself, as well as the natural and cultural attractions of the destination. Soft sport tourism can encompass a wide range of activities, from hiking and cycling to yoga and surfing, and can cater to a diverse range of interests and abilities.


How popular is sports tourism?

The popularity of sports tourism has grown exponentially in recent years, with more people than ever choosing to combine their love for sports with their passion for travel. The increasing interest in sports and fitness, coupled with the rise of social media and online platforms, has made it easier for sports enthusiasts to connect with like-minded individuals, share experiences, and discover new destinations.


According to FIFA (2023) around 3.4 million spectators watched the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 inside the stadiums. Likewise, in UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 final, 87,192 spectators witnessed England’s triumph over Germany at Wembley Stadium (UEFA, 2022).


Positive impacts of sports tourism


Economic impact of sports tourism

One of the most significant benefits is the economic stimulation that sports tourism can provide. This can come in the form of direct spending on event tickets, accommodation, and transportation, as well as indirect spending on food, souvenirs, and other tourism-related services.


Mega sporting events generate billions of dollars. For instance, hosting Rugby World Cup can generate up to £2.9 billion in total economic impact (Rugby World Cup, 2023).


International exposure for the host nation

Another positive impact of sports tourism is the potential for increased international exposure and enhanced reputation for the host destination. Major sporting events can attract significant media attention, which can help to raise the profile of the host city or country and attract further investment and tourism.


Removing cultural misconceptions

Sports tourism can provide valuable opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and understanding, as visitors from diverse backgrounds come together to share their passion for sport.


Qatar 2022 was the first FIFA World Cup to be held in the Middle East. Before the tournament, many people considered Qatar a relatively conservative country. However, they were surprised to see that it was also an extremely welcoming nation.


Development of local infrastructure

Finally, sports travel and tourism can contribute to the development of local sports infrastructure. The construction of new facilities or the upgrading of existing ones can provide increased opportunities for local residents to engage in sport and recreation, while the presence of high-profile athletes or events can inspire young people to pursue their own sporting dreams.


Negative impacts of sports tourism


Impact on the natural environment

One of the main concerns is the environmental impact of sports tourism, particularly in relation to the construction of new facilities and infrastructure. This can involve the destruction of natural habitats, the use of non-renewable resources, and the generation of waste and pollution.


Additionally, the increased traffic associated with sports tourism can contribute to air and noise pollution, as well as congestion and wear and tear on local roads.



Over-commercialisation can occur when the focus of a destination becomes primarily on attracting tourists and catering to their needs, rather than preserving and celebrating the unique characteristics of the local community.


Pressure on local resources

Furthermore, the influx of tourists can also put pressure on local resources and services, such as water, energy, and healthcare. This can lead to increased costs and reduced availability for local residents, as well as potential conflicts between tourists and host communities.


How can sports tourism stimulate the local economy?

There are several ways in which sports travel and tourism can stimulate the local economy, both directly and indirectly. The most immediate and obvious impact is the increased spending by tourists on accommodation, transportation, food, and other services.


In many cases, the influx of visitors can help to support local businesses and create new jobs, particularly in areas that may struggle to attract tourists through traditional means. This can provide a significant boost to local businesses.


Sports travel and tourism can contribute to the development of local sports infrastructure and programs, which can have long-term benefits for the health and well-being of the community. Increased participation in sports can lead to improved physical and mental health, reduced healthcare costs, and a greater sense of social cohesion and pride.


How can sports tourism be improved?

There are several ways in which sports tourism can be improved to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts. One of the most important aspects is the development and implementation of sustainable and responsible tourism practices, which prioritise the needs of local communities and the environment.


The involvement of local communities in the planning, decision-making, and management of tourism initiatives is also very important. This can help to ensure that the benefits of sports tourism are shared equitably and that the unique culture and identity of the destination are preserved and celebrated.


Finally, sports related tourism can be improved through greater collaboration between governments, event organizers, and the tourism industry, to create a coordinated and integrated approach to sports tourism development.


What are the future trends for sports tourism?

The future is likely to be shaped by several key trends and developments, including advances in technology, changing consumer preferences, and unexpected global events such as lockdowns. One of the most significant trends is the increasing use of digital platforms and social media to promote and engage with sports tourism.


Another trend is the growing demand for sustainable and responsible tourism practices, as tourists and communities become more aware of the environmental and social impacts of tourism. This is likely to lead to greater investment in eco-friendly sports facilities and infrastructure, as well as the development of sports events and activities that prioritize environmental and cultural sustainability.


Finally, the global lockdowns have had a significant impact on the tourism industry, with many events and activities cancelled or postponed due to health and safety concerns. However, this has also created opportunities for innovation and adaptation, such as the use of virtual events and online coaching, as well as the development of new health and safety protocols for sports tourism.


Sports tourism destinations

There are many destinations around the world that are popular for sports travel and tourism, depending on the type of sport and the preferences of the tourist. Some of the most popular destinations for hard sport tourism include cities such as Tokyo, Paris, and Rio de Janeiro, which have hosted major international events such as the Olympics and the World Cup.


Other popular destinations for hard sport tourism include destinations that are known for their passion for a particular sport, such as Manchester for football, London for tennis, Mumbai for IPL, and Barcelona for football.


For soft sport tourism, popular destinations include natural and scenic locations such as the Swiss Alps for skiing, the Great Barrier Reef for diving, and Bali for yoga and wellness retreats. These destinations often offer a combination of outdoor activities, cultural experiences, and relaxation, making them attractive to a wide range of tourists.


The UK is a top sports travel and tourism destination. The Premier League (Football), England Home Tours (Cricket), Horse Racing, NFL, Formula One – The British Grand Prix, and Wimbledon Tennis draw the attention of millions of both domestic and international tourists every year. Likewise, the USA is also one of the greatest sports destinations in the world.


Sports tourism statistics


  • Sports tourism in one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism (UNWTO, 2023)
  • It represents about 10% of the global expenditure on tourism (CBI, 2023).
  • It generates between 12 and 15 million international arrivals each year.
  • The value of global sports tourism market was around USD 587.87 billion in 2022.


Sports tourism jobs

Sports travel and tourism provides a wide range of job opportunities, both directly and indirectly. Direct employment opportunities include jobs in sports facilities and infrastructure, such as stadiums, arenas, and sports complexes, as well as event management and marketing. Indirect employment opportunities can include jobs in hospitality, transportation, retail, and other tourism-related industries.


Furthermore, sports travel and tourism can also provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and small business development, particularly in areas that may not have a strong tourism industry. For example, local residents can start their own sports equipment rental or tour guide businesses or sell locally made products to tourists.


Sports tourism examples


Olympic Games

The Olympics are the pinnacle of sports travel and tourism, attracting millions of visitors to the host country every four years. The event showcases a wide range of sports and serves as a platform for cultural exchange, making it a popular choice for both active and event-based sports tourists.


FIFA World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is another prime example, drawing football fans from around the globe to the host country every four years. The event generates significant economic benefits for the host nation.




Cricket World Cup

Cricket World Cup, organised by International Cricket Council (ICC), takes place every four years. It is an international cricket tournament in which 50 overs’ cricket matches are played by several qualifying nations.


Rugby World Cup

It is also known as the rugby union world cup. It is organised by World Rugby and takes place every four years where the best international teams in the world participate (Rugby World Cup, 2023).


The UEFA Champions League

It is one of the greatest football tournaments in the world. It is UEFA’s elite club competition with top clubs across Europe vie for the European champions crown (Premier League, 2023).


Asian Games

The Asian Games is a continental multi-sport event which takes place every four years. The athletes from all over Asia take part in it.


African Cup of Nations

The African Cup of Nations is the main men’s international football competition in Africa. Some of the biggest football players take part in it which generates great enthusiasm in Africa and beyond.  


Wimbledon Tennis

Wimbledon is one of the greatest sports events in the world. Millions of people watch it in stadiums and live on TV and streaming services.


Commonwealth Games

It is a great sporting event where athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations compete with each other in different sports.



To conclude, sports tourism has the potential to bring significant positive and negative impacts on local communities, economies, and environments. While there are many challenges and opportunities associated with it, it is clear that the benefits can be significant if managed effectively and sustainably.


Hope you like this article?. Please share the article link on social media to support our work. You may also like reading the following:


Factors affecting participation in sports

Impact of technology on sports development


Last update: 25 April 2023


CBI (2023) The European market potential for sports tourism, available at: (accessed 25 April 2023)

Encyclopaedia of Britannica (2023) Olympic Games, available at: (accessed 25 April 2023)

FIFA (2023) One month on: available at: (accessed 25 April 2023)

Premier League (2023) Champions league, available at: (accessed 22 April 2023)

Rugby World Cup (2023) Overview, available at: (accessed 22 April 2023)

UNWTO (2023) Sports tourism, available at: (accessed 24 April 2023)

UEFA (2022) Biggest Women’s EURO crowds: available at:–biggest-women-s-euro-crowds-2022-finals-the-best-attended/ (accessed 24 April 2023)

Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.

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