A world cup is a global sporting competition in which the participant entities – usually international teams or individuals representing their countries – compete for the title of world champion. There are a number of notable popular team sports competitions labeled "world cups", such as the ICC Cricket World Cup, Rugby World Cup, Rugby League World Cup and the Hockey World Cup but perhaps the best known is the FIFA World Cup (an association football tournament, first held in 1930), which is widely known simply as "the World Cup".
A world cup is generally, though not always, considered the premier competition in its sport, with the victor attaining the highest honour in that sport and able to lay claim to the title of their sport's best. However, in some sports the Olympic title carries at least as much prestige, while other sports such as diving and artistic gymnastics differentiate between their premier competitions, such as World Championships and Olympic Games, and their "World Cup", which is organised as a smaller scale but high-level showcase event with small elite fields.
Some sports governing bodies prefer the title "world championship" or a related term; some even organize both a world cup and a world championship with different rules. Usually, such competitions take one of two forms, a short periodic competition or a year-long series of meetings, but more frequently many sports have both World Cup (usually consisting of multiple events in a season), and world championship (usually a single event). Some examples in the following table.
|Sport||World Cup||World Championships|
|Alpine skiing||FIS Alpine Ski World Cup||FIS Alpine World Ski Championships|
|Archery||Archery World Cup||World Archery Championships|
|Artistic gymnastics||Artistic Gymnastics World Cup||World Artistic Gymnastics Championships|
|Athletics||Athletics World Cup||World Athletics Championships|
|Cross-country skiing||FIS Cross-Country World Cup||FIS Nordic World Ski Championships|
|Cycling||UCI Road World Cup||UCI World Championships|
|Diving||FINA Diving World Cup||FINA World Aquatics Championships|
|Fencing||Fencing World Cup||Fencing World Championships|
|Rhythmic gymnastics||Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup||World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships|
A periodic world cup or world championship usually takes the form of a knockout tournament (possibly with an initial group stage). This is held over a number of days or weeks, with the entrants eventually being whittled down to two, and the tournament culminating in a world cup final. The winner(s) take the title of World Champion(s) and hold it until the next time the event is held (usually one, two, or four years later). This format is most common in team sports, as with the FIFA World Cup or the ICC Cricket World Cup.
A contrasting concept, popular in individual sports, is a year-long competition with several meetings over its course. In this format, victory at an individual meeting earns a number of points, and, usually, a number of positions below also score points inversely related to their position. Contestants accumulate a number of points over the course of the year (often "season") and their cumulative total after all meetings have been concluded determines the World Champion or, simply, World Cup winner. The winner is then considered the champion until the next World Cup.