20 Sports Most Americans Have Never Heard Of

20 Sports Most Americans Have Never Heard Of

As most Americans know, our taste in sports does not exactly match that of the world. American football is rarely seen outside of North America, while soccer, by far the world’s most popular sport, is only now starting to reach the same tier as sports like baseball, basketball, and hockey. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are competitions that are extremely popular elsewhere in the world, but that the typical American likely hasn’t heard of them at all. 24/7 Wall St. identified 20 of the most interesting, unusual, and regionally popular of these. 

Some of these games, such as netball, handball — not the handball you’re thinking of — or Aussie rules football, bear many similarities to popular American sports and often can trace their origins to these sports. Others on this list, such as Afghanistan’s national sport buzkashi, which is played with the headless carcass of a goat, are different altogether. 

Some of these sports, while hugely popular where they are played, are niche in that they are only played in one place, and sometimes only during a single annual event. In these cases, such as the hyper-violent calcio fiorentino, the event is usually the cornerstone of a well-attended festival. Here are some of the most popular carnivals from around the world.

Not all of these sports are held in professional arenas — many are held outdoors, on sawdust,  and in muddy terrain. Others are held in official sports venues and are often locally popular enough to sell out events to tens of thousands of fans. Many of these sports have some local popularity in the United States, but if you want to see high-level competition for any of these sports, you’ll likely need to buy a plane ticket. But these are the most popular countries on the CDC’s Do Not Travel list.

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1. Aussie rules
> Most popular in: Australia

Aussie rules, or Aussie rules football, or “footy,” is, as the name suggests, primarily, but not exclusively, played in Australia. Its closest cousin in terms of rules is rugby, but footy is played on a larger, oval field (rather than a rectangular one) and has 18 players per side, compared to the 15 per side in rugby. While players are allowed to grab and throw the ball in rugby, they can only punch it or kick it in Aussie rules.

Source: Abasaa / Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

2. Bo-Taoshi
> Most popular in: Japan

Bo-Taoshi is similar to capture the flag, only far more dangerous. Originally designed as a training routine for the Japenese military, the game is played by opposing 75 person teams. One team attempts to lower the pole to a 30 degree angle before the other team is able to reach a goal with the pole remaining upright.

Source: griffhome / Flickr

3. Buzkashi
> Most popular in: Afghanistan

Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan. It is played on horseback and bears some similarities to soccer or rugby in that two teams are trying to score a goal, and these teams create formations to maintain possession. But there is one major difference — the object used to score is not a ball, but the decapitated corpse of a goat.

Buzkashi was temporarily made illegal during the reign of the Taliban, but was reinstated after the regime’s ouster.

Source: jacquesvandinteren / Getty Images

4. Caber toss
> Most popular in: Scotland

The caber toss is a traditional Scottish game in which participants compete to flip a 9.5-foot, 175-pound pole end over end and have it land standing straight up. The game is a test of both power and finesse.

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5. Calcio fiorentino
> Most popular in: Florence, Italy

The boundaries of what can be considered a sport are truly pushed at the calcio fiorentino, the annual competition held at the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. The game involves teams from four Florence neighborhoods, who attempt to move a ball into each other’s goals. Allowed to use any means necessary, they will literally beat each other up to gain an advantage.

Source: saschapohflepp / Flickr

6. Chess boxing
> Most popular in: Europe

As the name would suggest, chess boxing combines the board game of chess with a physical competition of boxing. Competitors must be ready to duke it out physically and mentally — and quickly be able to switch between the two — in order to be successful. The players compete in alternating three minute rounds of chess and then boxing. The players can win either by checkmating or knocking out their opponent.

Source: BravissimoS / Getty Images

7. Futsal
> Most popular in: Europe, South America

Futsal, sometimes called indoor soccer or indoor football, has spread in popularity around the world and is popular in South America and Europe. Futsal is played indoors and in a much smaller space than the traditional soccer field, and is usually played in a five on five format.

Source: proni / Flickr

8. Gaelic football
> Most popular in: Ireland

Gaelic football is reportedly the most commonly played sport in Ireland. The game is similar to Aussie rules football, which is closely related to Rugby. Unlike Aussie rules football, in Gaelic football, the ball is round and the field is rectangular.

Source: imagean / iStock via Getty Images

9. Handball
> Most popular in: Europe

No, not that handball. While Americans might be familiar with the game similar to squash or racquetball, played in parks against a cement wall, much of the world knows handball as a different sport altogether. Sometimes called team handball, the sport is a hybrid of soccer and basketball, with players carrying and dribbling the ball. The game is most popular in Scandinavia.

Source: Roland Zumbühl / Wikimedia Commons

10. Hornussen
> Most popular in: Switzerland

Similar to golf, Hornussen is played by hitting a small rubber disk with a long and flexible club with the goal of getting the disk to a certain destination. There are nearly 300 Hornussen clubs throughout Switzerland.

Source: Stephen Barnes / iStock via Getty Images

11. Hurling
> Most popular in: Ireland

A sport with its origins in Ireland, hurling, believed to be over 800 years old, is similar to lacrosse, but played with a wooden stick with a flat, rounded head and no netting. While it is most popular in Ireland, hurling is played worldwide.

Source: belurmath / Flickr

12. Kabaddi
> Most popular in: South Asia

Kabaddi, the national game of Bangladesh and Nepal, is similar to the game of tag, popular on school playgrounds nationwide, except that participants are permitted to tackle one another. The game is growing in popularity in the United Kingdom.

Source: Snap2Art_RF / Getty Images

13. Netball
> Most popular in: Canada

Originated in England in the 1890s, netball is a variant on what was at the time the nascent sport of basketball. Compared to its cousin, netball is played with smaller hoops. It is generally more popular as a women’s sport, although men’s teams play as well.

Source: Koichi Kamoshida / Getty Images

14. Onabashira
> Most popular in: Japan

Though it is a game, to many, onabashira may sound a lot like work. Popular in Japan, the dangerous game involves cutting down logs and transporting them, with the help of rope and gravity, over difficult terrain. The object of the ancient game is to build a nearby shrine with the logs that can weigh as much as 10 tons.

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15. Pacu Jawi
> Most popular in: Indonesia

Pacu Jawi, the Indonesian festival with origins on the Island of Sumatra, involves a competition in which a rider mounts behind two oxen with plows attached. The oxen run through thick mud at full speed, and contestants are judged based on their speed and the straightness of the pull. The event is held every year to celebrate the completion of the annual rice harvest.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

16. Pato
> Most popular in: Argentina

Pato — the national sport of Argentina — is similar to basketball but with at least one major difference: it is played on horseback. The object of the game, played between two teams, is to throw a ball with a leather handle through a circular hoop.

Source: tobiaslone / Flickr

17. Schwingen
> Most popular in: Switzerland

Schwingen, also called Swiss wrestling, is, well, a form of wrestling that originated in Switzerland, where it remains hugely popular. It has a complicated rule set, but competitions occur in 10-12 minute rounds, with two opponents facing off and attempting to throw each other on their backs. It is often played on sawdust.

Source: Djuli Pamungkas / Wikimedia Commons

18. Sepak bola api
> Most popular in: Indonesia

Sepak bola api id a game very similar to soccer except that instead of a soccer ball the game is played with a flaming coconut that has been dried and hollowed out and soaked in kerosene. Players typically undergo a three-week training ritual before a match to better withstand the pain from the flame.

Source: dbgg1979 / Flickr

19. Sepak takraw
> Most popular in: Southeast Asia

Sepak takraw is a highly entertaining hybrid of soccer and volleyball. The goal of the game is for the teams to get the grapefruit-sized ball to land on the opponent’s side of the field using their head, feet, knees — anything but their hands. The game is most popular in Southeast Asia.

Source: Neil Taylor / Wikimedia Commons

20. Tejo
> Most popular in: Colombia

Much like the game of cornhole many Americans are familiar with, tejo is played by tossing a metal disk and trying to hit a small target, often while the players drink beer. The similarities stop there, however, as the targets are surrounded with explosive packets of gun pounder, which will earn the thrower more points if they are hit.

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