The deadliest sports on Earth, ranked
Many sports are deadly. Skydiving, for instance, carries extreme risk. But other sports are far deadlier than you know. Here we rank the 30 deadliest.
30. Whitewater rafting
Dangers: Drowning, broken bones, and everything else we don’t like
Death count: From 2007 to 2016, there have been over 500 recorded deaths
Yikes factor: Not too much yikes
They call it whitewater rafting for a reason. For one, you’re rafting through tumultuously white waters. In other words: rapids. And rapids are called rapids for a reason. Their currents are strong and liable to pull you under, smash you into nearby rocks, or otherwise ruin your fun little vacation. This is all bad.
While the sport can be extremely fun, it is also extremely dangerous. Even though you might be strapped into a life vest, the protective gear won’t do much good once you’re knocked unconscious by a nearby boulder. Because of this (and the regrettably high number of deaths in the sport), whitewater rafting has to make our list.
Dangers: Broken bones, paralysis, death
Death count: Around 30,000 hospitalizations per year, a handful of deaths
Yikes factor: An unexpectedly strong yikes
Yes, you heard us right: cheerleading. While the sport might appear full of fun, excitement, and an impressive degree of coordination, the activity is actually riddled with injury. What else might you expect from tossing people undeservedly into the air? While some cheerleaders can expertly conduct these moves, others often suffer an accident.
Falls are absurdly common in the sport, and per year there are something around 30,000 hospitalizations. Yikes. What’s worse is that a number of these injuries result in permanent paralysis. Wave goodbye to that career in cheerleading. Anyway, a handful of deaths have also resulted from tragic falls. Keep this in mind before your next bend-and-snap.
Dangers: Concussions, broken bones, death
Death count: 42 deaths per year
Yikes factor: A decent yikes
Skiing is a surprisingly dangerous sport. This makes sense once you consider that you’re torpedoing down a steep mountain slope at speeds up to 50 mph. When you’re blazing at such speeds, it becomes all too easy to lose control and make yourself too comfortable with a nearby tree. Since trees are very hard things indeed, the result of such encounters isn’t pleasant or nice.
Rather, collisions with trees often result in concussions, broken body parts, and, yes, sometimes even death. But other troubles await: You can also get caught in an avalanche, collapse into a bank, and even hit another skier. The list goes on and on. While none of this makes skiing the deadliest sport, it definitely stirs enough trouble to merit mention.
Dangers: Broken bones, concussions, paralysis, death
Death count: Unknown
Yikes factor: A weird and unexpected yikes
Polo. Yes, polo. As innocuous and privileged as the sport may at first appear, it is actually quite dangerous. This makes a certain sort of sense once you acknowledge that the victims are riding atop giant equestrian beasts at top speeds — all while trying to swat a ball with a mallet. A minor slip-up could easily spell bad news.
But other problems can also occur. You’re brandishing a long and heavy mallet, hitting around a heavy ball, and playing with other people who are engaged in the same bizarre activity. It’s almost as if you wrote out a recipe for injury and distributed it to a handful of aristocratic wealthy folks. Anyway, the sport is dangerous.
Dangers: Broken bones, paralysis, concussions, death
Death count: Around 12 deaths in the past decade
Yikes factor: Modestly yikes
What happens when you put a bunch of firefighters (or whomever) into a grassy field and have them tackle one another with no padding for a couple of hours? Well, it isn’t exactly a nice tea party where everyone comes out cheerful and chipper on the other end. Rather, it results in a high number of injuries and apparently a great deal of fun. This is the story of rugby.
For rugby, the number and likelihood of injuries is fairly high. Some studies put the rate at around a fourth of all seasonal players. What’s worse is that many of these injuries are specific to the neck. And, while we probably don’t need to mention this, the neck is very important. You definitely should not sustain repeated injuries to the neck …
25. Jai alai
Dangers: Instant death
Death count: A handful of players in the past few years
Yikes factor: Extremely yikes
Jai alai has become more obscure over the past few years. This is in part due to the sport’s dangerous and unforgiving nature. The basic premise is that two people will hit a hard rubber ball back and forth at speeds up to 200 mph. And — somewhat reliably, as it turns out — this ball will sometimes hit one of the players in the face, ending their life. Ugh.
The death has been described as instant in many cases. Really, you don’t want a hard ball traveling at NASCAR speeds in the direction of your face. Trust me, you really don’t. Anyway, the sport has waned in popularity in the most recent decades. This is likely for the good of us all, as instant death isn’t a thing we typically encourage in sports.
Dangers: Getting shot, death
Death count: 75 per year, many more accidental shootings
Yikes factor: Decently yikes, but not too yikes
Hunting is one of those sports where it’s easy to see how things might turn deadly. I mean, you’re frolicking about the wilderness with a gun actually looking to shoot at things. If something goes astray and that “thing” happens to be your good friend Bill, nobody will have a good time.
Anyway, even with the proper precautions, something like 1,000 people are accidentally shot per year. And of these, something around 75 result in death. While by no means the best, the stats here aren’t as high as you might expect from so many people hunting for sport. Either way, if you’re a hunter, make sure to take the proper precautions. Keep Bill safe!
Dangers: Broken bones, concussions, instant death
Death count: Around 25 per year
Yikes factor: A mild yet cautious yikes
Skydiving is notoriously dangerous. Most of that danger comes from human error. Sometimes one of your friends will dip out of formation and fly directly into you. Sometimes you’ll open your chute a bit late. Whatever it is, a mishap at 10,000 feet isn’t likely to end well.
While around 85% of injuries occur around landing (and the rest around other types of failures), the injuries you can sustain can be severe. Broken bones are near to the most common outcome. Any way you spin it, you’ll want to be particularly careful around touching the ground.
Dangers: Torn ligaments, sprained ankles
Death count: One ever
Yikes factor: Very minimal yikes
Baseball is one of those sports that is riddled with injury. While many of these injuries aren’t the worst (consisting of things like torn ligaments and sprained ankles), other injuries can be severe. Mostly this latter type of injury surrounds the ball and the pitcher. If you strike the ball and it careens into somebody, they’re unlikely to have a good time.
While we might not consider the sport one of the most deadly, it does create enough injury to merit an honorable mention. Only one reported player has died from a pitch, and that death happened several decades ago. Still, the potential for death, while low, adds to the reason that baseball has made this list.
Dangers: Concussion, CTE, death
Death count: Approximately 500 since the sport began
Yikes factor: A decently strong yikes
If you think that getting hit in the face over and over and over again isn’t good for your health, you’re right. And because of this, boxing is of course rated as one of the most dangerous sports. While the likelihood of death (and in particular, instant death) isn’t as high here as it is for so many of the other sports on our list, nasty and irreversible injuries can still occur.
Concussions are one of the clearest examples. When you suffer a concussion, you get dizzy, unstable, and confused. You may even get double vision. But other than the short-term effects, concussions can have severe consequences later in life. While many of these have only become common knowledge recently, the dangers of diseases like CTE are well-known. It might be best to keep your season short.
20. American football
Dangers: Broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, and brain trauma
Death count: 33 deaths from 2000 to 2016
Yikes factor: A sizable yikes
American football has gotten itself into a bit of trouble over the past few years. Most of this trouble surrounds the growing awareness of CTE as a regrettably common side effect of the sport. While it has only come to light as of late, the extent of this problem has a long and unfortunate history.
Anyway, even beyond the traumatic brain damage, the sport consistently yields broken bones, sprains, and tears. You’d have to consider yourself lucky to never experience any of these. Because of the fact that so many people succumb to injury, and that many of these injuries are decently severe, football must be ranked among the other deadly sports on our list.
19. Downhill mountain biking
Dangers: Broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions
Death count: Few deaths
Yikes factor: A scary yikes
Mountain biking is dangerous for many reasons. For one, you are riding about, downhill, at literally breakneck speeds. Moreover, since you’re riding through rough and often unsculpted terrain, you have to avoid obstacles like roots, rocks, and holes in the ground (and sometimes even other riders!). Any misstep, then, might result in a deadly — or at least horribly painful — crash.
What’s worse is the probability of such injury. Some studies put the rate at around 1 in every 10 riders. Yikes. While not many of these injuries will result in death, the possibility is still there. And if not death, concussions and broken limbs aren’t far off. Either way, ride safely.
Dangers: Broken bones, abrasions, death
Death count: Around 40 per year
Yikes factor: Moderate yikes
While you might have looked at skateboarding as something unique to obnoxious teens and adults who never grew up, you might not have seen it as something deadly. This is a mistake. While not the most deadly of board sports, skateboarding does hold its fair share of deadly danger. Considering that some people take these boards at record speeds down traffic-ridden roads, death is sometimes inevitable.
While the count isn’t exactly high, there have been something like 40 deaths per year in some cases. Many of these deaths have occurred from car collisions. When boarding on roads, then, you must be extremely careful. If not, you might end up extremely dead. Anyway, because of these dangers, the sport has landed itself a spot on our list.
Dangers: Drowning, death
Death count: 3,500 people per year
Yikes factor: Moderate yikes
While swimming might not seem like a deadly sport, it sometimes, unfortunately, is. What makes the sport so deadly is that people will push themselves beyond their ability — or, worse, find themselves in a situation they can’t control. When something like this happens, there are few ways other than rescue to get yourself out of a tough predicament.
Because of this, drowning is a relatively common thing. Current statistics place the number at around two people per every 100,000, making it a more common cause of death than many other recreational activities. And so, we recommend that you swim with a lifeguard nearby. At least this way you’ll have someone to come and save you if things go awry.
Dangers: High probability of broken bones and concussions
Death count: Uncertain, but many injuries
Yikes factor: A mild yikes
BMX doesn’t stand for Bored Motorless Xtremeists (as it should). Rather, it stands for Bicycle Motocross. This hybrid sport often entails massive jumps and lofty heights. And, once you combine these things, the result is often an uncomfortable number of injuries. These injuries aren’t pretty, either, so hold your breath.
The result of a crash in BMX can range from shattered collarbones to fractured spinal cords. Rarely, however, do such crashes result in death. Still, because of the high probability of crashing, the sport has to make any respectable list of the world’s deadliest sports. While you might not be all that likely to die, the numerous crashes are indisputably likely to lessen your quality of life.
15. Hang gliding
Dangers: Broken bones, instant death
Death count: 1 in 560
Yikes factor: A formidable yikes
Hang gliding, despite its apparently relaxing nature, can be just as dangerous as other aerial sports. Because of this, it has made our list. Your likelihood of dying in a hang-gliding accident, for instance, is something around 1 in 560. This is extremely high. If you are thinking about hang gliding, then, you’ll want to make sure to (1) do it with a thoroughly trained professional, or (2) not do it at all.
Whatever you decide, when you put yourself high into the air, you’ll have little room for error. Any slight mishap could send you tumbling from the heights. And with this, you will tumble and tumble until the ground gets a little too close for comfort. So, we’ll definitely suggest that you don’t take this sport too lightly.
14. Horseback riding
Dangers: Broken limbs, death
Death count: 100 people per year
Yikes factor: A mild yet serious yikes
When getting atop a heavy animal with an unpredictable temperament, it becomes far too easy to see how things might go south. And south these things often go. When horseback riding, for instance, people often fall from their horses, get twisted up in the horse’s hooves, and get a little battered in the process. No good.
While death from horseback isn’t all that common, it isn’t out of the question. Sometimes, for instance, getting bucked from a horse might result in trampling. Trampling can kill you. It’s like getting stomped by a bull but worse because you’re probably friends with the horse. Either way, the sport is dangerous and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
13. Powerboat racing
Dangers: Getting hit by a boat, drowning, death
Death count: About one per year
Yikes factor: A fairly strong yikes
Powerboat racing isn’t exactly common. Given that the threshold to get into the sport requires much uncommon knowledge, not many people can take up the sport recreationally. Regardless, given the high speed of these boats and the rocky waters they traverse, it’s inevitable that some crashes will occur. And, when they do, they’re bad.
In offshore powerboat racing specifically, a subbreed of powerboat racing, around one person dies per year. Now, whether that person be a spectator, boat driver, or crew worker depends on the accident. Whatever happens, powerboat racing has inherent risks. Be careful out there!
12. Bull riding
Dangers: Broken bones, concussions, trampling, death
Death count: Three deaths annually, several more severe injuries
Yikes factor: A resounding why-on-Earth-are-you-doing-this yikes
While some extreme sports make a certain type of sense (cave diving, for instance, can yield scientific research), others make literally no sense at all. Bull riding is one of these sports. What the activity entails is getting atop an angry and antagonized bull and trying to ride it for eight seconds. Needless to say, not everybody comes out of such encounters alive and well.
The list of injuries you can suffer from bull riding ranges from crushed bones to death by battering. Whatever it is, having a 2-ton steer delight in pummeling your body doesn’t typically end well. Because of this, we have to rank the activity as one of the deadliest sports. But you likely already knew that.
11. Mountain climbing
Dangers: Broken bones, hypoxia, altitude sickness, hypothermia, death
Death count: 24 deaths in the year 2000
Yikes factor: A more moderate yikes
Mountain climbing is one of those sports that takes you ascending steep cliffs and perilous slopes. Because of this, it can often be dangerous. Here, however, the danger often comes from equipment failures. When you climb, for instance, you rely on harnessing equipment to keep you to the rocks. If this equipment fails, you’re not going to have a good time.
When falling from one of your belays, you can fall quite a ways — sometimes around 10 feet. It’s no surprise that such falls could slam you into the surrounding cliff face, breaking a bone or giving you a concussion. But if the fall is worse, death could easily follow. While the number of deaths from the sport varies per year, 24 deaths were recorded in 2000. Don’t be a statistic.
Dangers: Broken bones, death
Death count: Uncertain, but around 407 injuries in seven years
Yikes factor: Too many yikes for this one
Luging is a bizarre spot. Apparently birthed into existence by a handful of street kids lying faceup on their skateboards, the sport has come a long way. Anyway, the type of injury you’re most likely to sustain from such an activity is broken bones. No fun.
Traveling downhill at speeds upwards of 90 mph, it’s no wonder that the sport is considered dangerous. In the past seven years, something like 407 injuries have occurred. Considering that only a few thousand people participate in the sport, this is fairly troubling. If you’re considering luge, then, you might want to think about the ways in which your experience might go wrong first.
9. Auto racing
Dangers: Getting hit by a car, crashing into another car, high speeds, death
Death count: 520 people in 25 years
Yikes factor: A big ol’ yikes
Racing is clearly one of the deadlier sports. And this is for clear reasons. Because you’re racing around the track at something like 160 mph, the likelihood of death in the event of a crash is high. But hey, isn’t that what most NASCAR fans want to see anyway? Just remember to drive fast and turn to the left.
Anyway, one surprising fact is that many injuries don’t actually happen to the driver, but instead to the road crew. Here, the speed they need to carry out their duty often leads to accidents. And here, the damage can be severe. Because of these two possibilities, crashing and getting hit, auto racing is considered extremely dangerous.
Dangers: Drowning, death
Death count: 308 out of 417 accidents
Yikes factor: Very much yikes
You might not have heard of freediving. If you haven’t, you can think of it as a type of scuba diving with no equipment. While you won’t go to the same depths, you will expose yourself to many of the same dangers: You submerge yourself deep into water, you’re subject to confusion in the depths, and drowning becomes perilously easy.
What makes freediving so dangerous, however, is in part what makes it so fun. Because you have no equipment, which increases things like maneuverability, it is far easier for things to go south. Out of 417 recorded freediving accidents, for instance, 308 of them proved fatal. If you plan on freediving, then, we recommend that you exercise some caution.
7. Big-wave surfing
Dangers: Drowning, getting crushed, death
Death count: Around 10 per year
Yikes factor: So many yikes
Many don’t think that surfing is one of the most extreme sports. This is likely because in most cases it is not. In some cases, however, it most certainly is. One particular brand of surfing that takes the proverbial dangerous cake is big-wave surfing. Here, boarders will ascend waves that measure anywhere between 50 to 100 feet. Getting caught in such a wave isn’t exactly safe.
The ways in which you can die or sustain serious injury from big-wave surfing are numerous: You can get pushed down dozens of feet beneath the water, get smashed into your surfboard or a hidden rock, or — worse — get caught in round after round of big wave, likely drowning as a result. The sport isn’t for the faint of heart. Some would argue it isn’t for anyone.
6. High-altitude mountain climbing
Dangers: Altitude sickness, snow blindness, frostbite, hypothermia, hypoxia, death
Death count: Hundreds have died climbing Everest alone
Yikes factor: A decently heavy yikes
Mountain climbing is one thing. Mountain climbing on peaks that break the 8,000-meter mark — i.e., mountains like Everest and K2 — is another thing altogether. Here, safety equipment and experience are a must. If lacking either of these, death won’t be far off. One need merely look at the track record of those who have died to see this clearly.
When ascending high altitudes, problems like altitude sickness, snow blindness, and oxygen deprivation become a major concern. And, to make matters worse, on some mountains (like Everest) you have to battle traffic jams. Such jams have led to numerous deaths on the mountain, leaving a grim trace for those who ascend. Plan well if you aim to high-altitude climb.
5. BASE jumping
Dangers: Broken bones, instant death
Death count: Around 15 deaths per year
Yikes factor: One of the most yikes you can get
No, BASE does not stand for “Bizarre Action, Sizable Ending.” Rather, it stands for Building, Antenna, Span (i.e., bridges), and Earth (i.e., cliffs). And it is from one of these four places that BASE jumpers will hurl themselves (often at heights unconscionably close to the ground) with nothing but a dainty parachute to land them safely. This diminished distance isn’t for everyone.
The number of injuries suffered from those who BASE jump are almost as breathtaking as they are grave. The number of deaths is something as high as 1 in every 60. If you applied this rate of death to basketball, say, it would mean that something like 8 out of every 494 NBA players would die each year. Definitely yikes …
Dangers: Avalanche, hypothermia, broken bones, death
Death count: Around 100 deaths per season
Yikes factor: A very strong yikes
Heli-skiing is one of those sports you see in a James Bond movie. Easy to infer from the name, the sport is what you get when you have skiers that want the most untainted snow. But with this untainted snow, however, comes extreme danger. Because the snow is so fresh, and the heights are so steep, the skiers are often placed in avalanche zones. This isn’t good.
As you might expect, then, one of the most obvious dangers of this sport is succumbing to the tumbling snow. But other danger factors include the potential of getting stranded or subsumed by an incoming storm. Whatever it is, the sport is land-mined with things that can kill. You might want to keep this in mind if you’re planning a ski trip in the high alpine.
3. Cave diving
Dangers: Drowning, death
Death count: Three to eight deaths per year
Yikes factor: A nail-biting yikes
Cave diving, in case you are unaware, is considered an extremely dangerous sport. This is for good reason. First off, it combines the risks of regular diving — which entails things like underwater discombobulation and getting the bends — with those you’d get from swimming through narrow, underwater corridors.
In cave diving, for example, an added potential danger is the kick-up of sediment at the bottom (or any other place, for that matter) of the cave. When in a tight space, such sediment can fill the water around you, making it impossible to see. Ultimately, the situation can prove fatal. Because of this, cave diving is ranked as one of the deadliest and most extreme sports.
2. Free solo climbing
Dangers: Broken limbs, death
Death count: A couple dozen
Yikes factor: Some severe yikage
Rock climbing has already made our list as one of the deadliest sports. Now imagine taking that climbing and subtracting all of the safety equipment. Yes, now you have free solo climbing. If the sport sounds deadly, you are listening correctly. The sport has had its fair share of catastrophes — people falling to their deaths from extraordinary heights.
While most free solo climbers will only attempt a route after having practiced to the nth degree, tragedy can still strike. Five climbers have died trying to free climb Yosemite’s El Capitan, for instance. And this is just since 2013. The sport, then, is clearly one of the deadliest. If you attempt it, make sure you attempt it with practice.
1. Wingsuit flying
Dangers: Instant death
Death count: 1 in 60
Yikes factor: The most yikes you can possibly imagine
Wingsuit flying is one of the most notoriously deadly sports. Unlike cheerleading, football, or cave diving, wingsuit flying entails putting yourself into a modified flying squirrel-like suit and jumping off of something (often a cliff or mountain face). You then soar, if all things go well, at incredible speeds to the bottom of whatever cliff faces you are betwixt.
Many wingsuit flyers have put themselves into peril by flying through small holes in rocks or too close to the ground. Whatever it is, the relatively little control they have while flying leaves little room for error. So, when error does occur, it is often large, terrible, and tragic. Because of this, we’ve had to rank it as the deadliest sport on our list.