An association between physical inactivity and obesity risk has been established. However, the relationship between sports activity and the risk of diabetes among Chinese populations is still unclear. We prospectively investigated the association between sports activity and incidence of type 2 diabetes in a Chinese population. Habitual physical activity in the presumed last year was obtained from a questionnaire developed by Baecke and colleagues. During a median 9.02-year follow-up period among the 1936 participants with complete questionnaire data, 312 participants developed diabetes. After adjusting for age, gender and body mass index, the relative risk (RR) of diabetes according to quartiles of sports activity were 0.86, 0.71 and 0.72 (95% Confidence Interval [CI], 0.52-0.99, P for trend, 0.048). Participants with the highest quartiles of sports activity had a significantly lower risk than the participants with the lowest quartiles among the obese group (multivariate RR, 0.61, 95% CI, 0.41-0.92, P for trend=0.018). Furthermore, the RRs of diabetes were 2.24 (95% CI, 1.58-3.19) for participants who were obese and sedentary, compared with those who were of a healthy weight and participated actively in sports. The findings suggest a significant inverse association between sports activity and incidence of type 2 diabetes in middle to older-aged Chinese individuals.