Popular French Sports

Football players

Some of the most popular French sports include football (soccer), tennis, cycling, handball, basketball and rugby.

Sports in France

Sports in France are as intrinsic to French culture as croissants and red wine. Participation is high, as is the interest; the French people are extremely proud of their athletes.

A List of Popular French Sports


Americans call it soccer, but around the world it is known as football, and to say that football is popular may be the understatement of the year! Governed by the French Football Federation, France's team placed second during the 2006 World Cup, and won the World Cup (while the host nation) in 1998. Unfortunately, along with their respectable second place showing, controversy is also a part of France's football reputation. During a 2006 World Cup match, player Zinedine Zidane head butted Italian player Marco Materazzi in the chest. While it's true the two players exchanged words, at the time, it was unclear as to what exactly was said.

Today, both players still dispute the exact words that were said, however, both do agree that Marco Materazzi made some crude comments in reference to Zinedine Zidane's sister. Mr. Zidane has since retired from the sport, but still remains very well-known in France.


Among the popular French sports are tennis, and every year, during the spring, the best clay-court specialists in the world converge on Roland Garros to test their skills. In fact, tennis is so popular in France that it ranks only second to football. The last Frenchman to win the French Open was Yannick Noah in 1983, while the last French woman, Mary Pierce, secured the title in 2000.


While it's true that France did not establish an official handball team until the early 1990's, since that time, they have gone on to make several successful showings in several tournaments. These accomplishments include winning the bronze medal during the 1993 Summer Olympics, reaching the finals of the 1993 World Championship and finishing third in the 2005 Summer Olympics. The sport of handball is popular in primary and secondary schools in France, and team handball itself continues to gain popularity in the country at large.

Rugby Union

Rugby union is extremely popular in France, and in fact, their rugby team is considered one of the strongest in Europe. Every year, France participates in the Six Nations Championship, along with England, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Wales, and the team has much to feel proud of; they've won the championship fourteen times! Their current ranking for the year 2009 is puts them in eighth place.


One can't discuss popular French sports without mentioning the internationally well-known Tour de France. This cycling event takes place each July and lasts three grueling weeks. While it's true that Lance Armstrong's amazing seven wins of the tournament has done much to increase its popularity, there can be no doubt that France's terrain, which at times can be quite treacherous, particularly when it rains, has also done much to raise awareness about this sport.


It may come as a bit of a surprise that basketball is quite popular in France. The national basketball team falls under the jurisdiction of the Fédération Française de Basket-Ball, but in all fairness, the team has much work to do if they want to be recognized as a true force on the court. The team has yet to win a major international tournament.

Some Famous French Athletes

Some famous French Athletes include:

  • Football: Michel Platini, Eric Cantona, Didier Deschamps
  • Handball: Brother Bertrand Gille and Guillaume Gille
  • Cycling: Bernard Hinault
  • Basketball: Aymeric Jeanneau and Sacha Gifta

Putting It All Together

This is just a sampling of popular sports in France, but even from this brief list, it's easy to see the impact these sports have had around the world. Moreover, it's also clear to see that France has much to be proud of as their athletes are quite talented and continue to make news around the world.

Popular French Sports