Sports can be about getting fit and being healthy, or they can be about competitiveness, but oftentimes, and probably more often than people would like to admit it, searching out the adrenaline you get from the most extreme and dangerous activities and pushing yourself to your absolute mental and physical limit. So, what is the most dangerous sport in the world?
Well, that can be hard to quantify depending on what metrics you’re looking to use to decide what the most dangerous sport is. You can get a freak injury playing nearly any sport, from a cleat to the ankle in European football to getting your fingers caught between two bowling balls. While those can be very painful, they’re not exactly injuries that imply that bowling or European football are among the most dangerous sports out there.
What exactly is a dangerous sport?
For us, the range of injury possibility has to be much wider. If you really want to get down to the answer to the question ‘what is the most dangerous sport or activity’, you’re going to have to look at the ones where there’s a real possibility that you not only break a bone or two, but where you could die while participating. Danger is literally defined as the possibility of getting injured or harmed, and the worst form of harm or injury is the mortal kind.
It’s serious stuff, but danger and death are always present possibilities when you’re putting your body—and life—on the line while chasing thrills in the air, on the ice, on the race track, or wherever else you’re searching for that adrenaline boost. When it comes to extreme sports, it’s all about how much you can risk your own health and life without losing either. If you’re looking for the most extreme forms of excitement and danger, then look no further than the sports on our list of the most dangerous sports known to man.
15. Street Luging
This is a sport that’s just as popular for recreation as it is for competition. Street luging consists of lying on your back on a wheeled board, also called a sled, and riding down a steep course. The sport was created by skateboarders who realized they were more aerodynamic when they laid down on their boards, thereby allowing them to go much faster.
Street luging has been described as sledding at 90 miles per hour, and the world record for speed for an unassisted street luge is 101 miles per hour set by Damian Andrew in 2017. Street lugers are decked out in leather outfits and motorcycle helmets, and while deaths are rare, they have happened, and gruesome injuries too. It’s to be expected when you’re zipping down a steep circuit with sharp turns on a board that doesn’t come equipped with brakes.
14. American Football
In terms of mainstream team sports, it doesn’t get much more dangerous than a contact sport like American football. Despite the fact that the NFL is trying to legislate violence out of the game, the violence is what makes American football what it is. And even apart from the brain issues that have been seen in many former NFL players later on in their lives, there have been some scary moments on the field too.
Concussions are very commonplace, but there have also been many injuries related to the neck and spine that have left some players paralyzed. Bills safety Damar Hamlin had to be revived on the field during the last NFL season, though he seems to have made a full recovery. Other spinal injuries, like the one Ryan Shazier suffered a few years ago, are so severe that the player can never play football again.
Perhaps the only team sport more dangerous than American football is rugby, which is somewhat similar to football, though one of the major differences is that while American football players have a ton of padding to protect themselves, rugby players play in nothing but their uniform.
It’s just 13 players on each team going to town and smashing into one another for the whole game. No headgear, no nothing. Since 2008, there have been at least 12 deaths in rugby union, though the number could conceivably be much higher than that.
12. White Water Rafting
White water rafting might just sound like a fun ride at the water park or a leisurely day on the water with the family, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s a reason white water rafting is something adrenaline junkies love to do: because depending on the river or rapids you’re rafting on, it is a very high risk proposition that could result in a broken bone or worse.
When you talk about white water, you’re talking about water that’s moving very fast through rough terrain, which means your raft could very well smash into some jagged rocks or even be punctured by them. Drowning in the current or banging your head against one of the many deadly obstacles in the rapids are a couple of the main reasons why this is one of the most dangerous sports.
11. Bull Riding
It’s really all right there in the name, isn’t it? If you willingly choose to be a bull rider, you’re looking for trouble or some sort of adrenaline rush. And you better believe that most of those bulls are going to oblige your chase for adrenaline, if not take it even a little bit further than perhaps you wanted or expected. The whole sport is designed around trying to stay on an aggressive and angry bull for as long as possible, so the danger is really baked right in here.
Not only do the people at the rodeo get these bulls fired up and raring to go, but they can also hurt you simply by their immense size. Most bulls are about 1,800 pounds, so once you’re off their backs, you are in serious trouble. You know what they say, if you’re not walking out on your own two feet, your next ride is going to be in an ambulance—or a hearse.
The nasty, violent cousin of boxing, mixed martial arts combines the danger of a wide range of different martial arts disciplines to create arguably the most brutal combat sport and therefore one of the most dangerous sports in the world. Apart from head butting, eye gouging, and groin shots, there’s not much that’s off limits in the octagon, as athletes can throw everything from knees, to elbows, to kicks, to punches at each other to get the victory.
There have only been seven recorded deaths from sanctioned MMA bouts and nine from unregulated bouts, so the numbers aren’t as high as for boxing, but there’s no arguing that when you get kicks, flying knees, and spinning elbows involved in a fight, that fight becomes a lot more dangerous indeed.
9. Big Wave Surfing
Surfing seems like a pretty cool sport to take up if the dangers of open water and what might be lurking beneath don’t bother you. And that’s the thing about big wave surfing, the fear of something in the water getting at you is the least of your worries. When you’re surfing on waves that can get as big as 100 feet, you’re putting your life on the line in more ways than one.
When you’re surfing on waves that massive, every move you make is crucial to not only staying upright on your board, but getting out of the surf with your body and life intact. If you fall into a gargantuan wave while trying to surf it, there are a lot more perils than just drowning, which is a very real possibility. You could also be pulled into riptide or an undertow and out to sea, you could smash yourself on underwater rocks, or your board could betray you and smash into your head in the commotion.
8. NASCAR and Auto Racing
Driving around a circuit with sharp turns in a car that can weigh from 1,800 pounds in Formula 1 to 3,300 pounds in NASCAR going speeds higher than 150 miles per hour sounds like a surefire way of doing yourself in, but you’d be surprised to know that there have only been 40 on track deaths in the last two decades.
Massive impact, huge g-force, and fiery explosions are all somewhat commonplace when watching auto racing in action. While NASCAR and F1 have both improved their safety measures immensely in recent years, they’ve also improved their car performance, which means that while there are more safety features, the cars continue to go faster and faster, which increases the danger and makes this a top contender for most dangerous sport in the world.
7. Motocross/Motorbike Racing
If auto racing is a dangerous sport, it goes without saying that its nutty cousin, motorbike racing, is just as dangerous, if not more so. Motorbike racing sees these guys going 120 miles per hour with nothing but a leather suit on to protect them should there be a crash.
Then there’s the off-road mountain biking motocross competitions that see people riding their bikes through rough natural terrain, with bumps and roots and all sorts of other obstacles just waiting to send you flying from your ride, stumbling down the hill, and into a hospital bed. It doesn’t get much more dangerous than riding a motocross bike full speed down a mountain course that’s less than groomed.
They call it the sweet science, but there’s really nothing sweet about it. Two athletes enter the ring, and they’re wailing on each other with their fists for 12 three minute rounds, unless one fighter is so badly beat up that they can’t continue. While some say that the gloves boxers are forced to wear can minimize impact, it’s actually the opposite, as the added weight on the fists of the boxers means their shots are even heavier than they otherwise might be.
There have been over 1,500 boxing-related deaths since they first began reporting them in the late 1880s, and most other sports would have a hard time measuring up to the numbers boxing puts up in that regard. Just in the last decade there have been at least 20 reported deaths due to injuries sustained in the ring, which means it definitely remains one of the most dangerous sports out there.
5. Free Solo Rock Climbing
Tom Cruise did it in Mission Impossible, so why can’t I do it? Well, because free solo rock climbing is one of the most dangerous sports you can try and Tom Cruise is a nut. You might think people who skydive are the wild ones, but at least they come prepared with a parachute. Someone doing a free solo climb doesn’t even use any of those cumbersome ropes, harnesses, or other protective gear. It’s just you, your climbing shoes, maybe some chalk, and a cliff.
When it comes to putting your life on the line, nowhere is that more apparent than with free solo rock climbing. Literally one wrong move could easily mean death or at least a life altering injury. It’s a pretty big risk, but hey, there’s nothing like being in the great outdoors, right?
There are actually fewer fatalities related to skydiving than most people would probably think, but the possibility is there every time you jump out of a plane thousands of feet in the air with nothing but a parachute to save yourself. Skydiving is exhilarating and cathartic for many, but for others it’s nothing more than one of the most dangerous sports on the menu.
Any issues you might have up there are pretty much deadly, whether it’s faulty equipment or user error that does you in. But even apart from that, the sheer madness of skydiving can be too much for some people’s bodies, as strokes and heart attacks are far from unheard of during a skydive.
3. Wingsuit Flying
Have you ever heard of or seen one of those flying squirrels? They can’t fly, but they can glide around all they like thanks to the semi-wings they have between their arms and legs. That’s basically what you’re doing in a wingsuit. You’re jumping off a cliff or out of plane with just your wingsuit, which will allow you to glide and gain more lift.
The wingsuit allows you to have longer flights with more distance, which is why a lot of skydivers and BASE jumpers have become wingsuit jumpers in recent years. Flying as close as you can to a mountainside or cliff can sometimes have deadly consequences, however, as evidenced by the 170+ wingsuit jumping deaths recorded since 2002.
2. High Altitude Mountaineering
The word ‘mountaineering’ might make you think of a little hike up the local mountain or hill with a nice packed lunch, but that’s not the kind of mountaineering we’re talking about here. This is serious mountain climbing, as in the mountain climbing people do on the sky-scraping peaks of the Himalayas.
In fact, you actually have a 10 percent chance of dying in your attempt to summit the highest peaks of the famous Himalayan mountain range, including nearly 300 who have died trying to climb Mount Everest alone. There’s all sorts of things out to get you on a trek up the Himalayas including avalanches, crevasses, falls, and frostbite. But it’s really the lack of oxygen at altitudes that humans really aren’t supposed to be at that makes this arguably the most dangerous sport known to mankind.
1. BASE Jumping
Here we are, arriving at our number one most dangerous sport in the world: BASE jumping. The BASE stands for buildings, antennae, spans (bridges), and earth (cliffs etc.), the four major groups of fixed objects from which you can jump from high enough to deploy a parachute. There are somehow still people flocking to become a BASE jumper, and they’re all just doing it for the thrill of it.
According to the BASE Fatality List, there have been nearly 450 deaths since 1981, when they first began keeping track. For a sport with such a small number of participants, that number is pretty scary. And it’s not like they’re figuring out how to make it safer either, as the deadliest BASE jumping year on record was pretty recently, when 37 people died in 2016.
We’ve covered everything from extreme sports, to team sports, to combat sports, and even vehicular sports. There are a variety of ways to put yourself in danger in the chase for sport and thrill, but when it comes to the question ‘what is the most dangerous sport in the world?’ the discussion really begins and ends with BASE jumping and the other sports that require you to jump into thin air from enormous heights, though high altitude mountaineering is certainly no slouch either thanks to the Himalayas.