Olympics-Huge global interest, track and swimming top sports - poll

Wed Jul 25, 2012 5:36pm BST

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* Sixty two percent interested in Olympic Games

* Seventy two percent plan to watch

* Favorite sports - track and field, soccer

By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK, July 25 (Reuters) - With the start of the 2012 Olympics Games in London just two days away, nearly three quarters of people around the globe plan to watch at least some of the event, according to a new poll released on Wednesday.

Seventy two percent of more than 18,000 adults questioned in 24 countries said they will tune in to the Olympics, which begins on Friday and runs until Aug. 12, and 20 percent said they would follow track and field and soccer most closely.

"Nothing compares to the Olympics, especially the summer Olympics," said Keren Gottfried, research manager of Ipsos, which conducted the survey for Reuters.

"It's an event that is engrained in everybody's culture, in their sense of nationalism."

Sixty two percent of people expressed an interest in the Games in which thousands of athletes from around the globe will compete in 36 sports, including Usain Bolt on the track and Michael Phelps in the pool. At least half of residents in each country polled plan to watch some of it. Only 15 percent said they would not tune in at all.

In China, which hosted the last summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, 92 percent will be viewing it, along with similar numbers in South Korea and India, while interest was lowest in Belgium, Germany and France.

"Since the last Olympics were in China, it is probably still fresh in their minds," Gottfried explained about the high numbers.

SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES AN IMPACT

While most people said they will follow the Games on television, many will turn to their mobile devices, and social media will also have an impact.

Nearly a quarter of viewers will use the Internet, six percent will watch on their smartphones and four percent will turn on their tablets.

The biggest number of Internet watchers will be in China, where nearly 70 percent will follow the Games on the web.

Fans inside a stadium will be able to use their smartphones to film their favorite athletes, according to the International Olympic Committee, but they will not be allowed to upload it to social media sites like Facebook.

Favorite sports differed depending on the country but overall track and field and soccer were likely to be the most watched sports, with 20 percent of people saying they will tune in, followed by swimming at 16 percent, gymnastics at 14 and volleyball and tennis 5 percent each.

Track and field topped the list in Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, South Africa, Sweden and Turkey.

Soccer was likely to be the main attraction in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Argentina and Spain.

But in Brazil volleyball trumped all other sports, with the men's team aiming for their third Olympic gold medal. The team lost to the United States in 2008.

"If Brazil is any indication, people's excitement is correlated to whether they think their teams will do well," said Gottfried.

The run-up to the London Games has been fraught with concerns about the weather, strikes and traffic snarls. Britain also beefed up security with 1,200 soldiers for the Games after a private security company could not find enough staff.

Thirty eight percent of people said they were worried about an attack. Concerns were highest among Mexicans, Indians and Spaniards, while less than a quarter of people in Poland, France and Hungary had fears about security.

"I think it (security) is on people's minds, but it is not a main issue," said Gottfried.

Ipsos questioned people aged 18 to 64 years old in the United States and Canada, and 61-64 in each of the countries from June 5-19. The company does not report on a global aggregate margin of error. (Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Christine Kearney and Toby Davis)

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