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Sport in South Africa

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Sport in South Africa

Sports in South Africa have a passionate following, although they remain largely divided along ethnic lines. Soccer, Cricket and Rugby are the most popular sports.

Soccer is particularly popular amongst blacks. The national soccer team is nicknamed Bafana Bafana (meaning the boys, the boys). South Africa hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first one hosted in Africa.

Cricket is traditionally the sport of the white British diaspora and Indian South African communities, although it is now followed by members of all races. The national cricket team is nicknamed The Proteas.

Rugby is very popular, especially among persons of Afrikaner descent. The national rugby union team, The Springboks, have enjoyed considerable success since the early 20th Century, including two Rugby World Cup victories in 1995 & 2007.

Other popular sports include: boxing, hockey, tennis, golf, surfing, netball and running.

South Africa was absent from international sport for most of the apartheid era due to sanctions, but started competing globally after the end of apartheid.


South Africa was banned from the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo due to the apartheid policies. [1] This ban effectively lasted until 1992. During this time, some sports people (like Zola Budd and Kepler Wessels) left for other countries in order to compete internationally. Some athletes continued their sports careers in South Africa in isolation, with some stars like women's 400 metres runner Myrtle Bothma running a world record time at the South African championships.

Some sports teams toured South Africa as "Rebel Tours" and played the Springbok rugby and Proteas cricket teams in South Africa during the isolation period.

In 1977, Commonwealth Presidents and Prime Ministers agreed, as part of their support for the international campaign against apartheid, to discourage contact and competition between their sportsmen and sporting organisations, teams or individuals from South Africa.

Women's sport

Sport in South Africa is still largely seen (in the words of a former member of Women and Sport South Africa) as "the domain of men". In 1997, one writer described "massive gender inequalities in the sporting structures of the country, and a strong association between sport and masculinity".[2]


Athletics (Running)

Major events: Comrades Marathon and Two Oceans Marathon

South Africa has an active athletics schedule and has produced a number of athletes who compete internationally and qualify for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the 2011 World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, South Korea, the relay team of Shane Victor, Ofentse Mogawane, Willem de Beer and Oscar Pistorius set a national record time of 2:59.21 seconds in the heats. South Africa went on to win a silver medal in the finals with the team of Victor, Mogawane, de Beer and L. J. van Zyl.[3]

In 2012 Caster Semenya won a silver medal in the women's 800m of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, with a time of 1:57.23 seconds. Also in 2012, Oscar Pistorius became the first double amputee sprinter to compete at the Olympic Games, but did not win a medal.

Pistorius won a gold medal and a bronze medal in the T44 class at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, and three gold medals at the 2008 Summer Paralympic Games in Beijing. He also won two gold medals at the 2012 Paralympic Games and remained the T43 world record holder for the 200 and 400 metres events. The South African team of Pistorius, Arnu Fourie, Zivan Smith and Samkelo Radebe won a gold medal and set a Paralympic record in the 4x100m relay with a time of 41.78 seconds. Fourie also set a world record in the heats of the T44 200m event and won a bronze medal in the 100m event.

Australian rules football

Australian rules football is a popular sport in South Africa. Since 1996 the sport has been growing quickly and especially amongst the indigenous communities. South Africa's has a national team the South African national Australian rules football team. The team made history in 2007 by competing against Australia's best Under 17 players, as well as defeating a touring Australian amateur senior team for the first time.[4] There is an annual national championships which was first held in 2008. The South African national team also competes in the Australian Football International Cup which is essentially a World Cup for all countries apart from Australia which is the only place where the sport is played professionally. The South African national team highest finish at the International Cup is 3rd which was in 2008.


Basketball is an increasingly popular sport in South Africa especially among the youth. The national federation Basketball South Africa was founded in 1992 and is one of the youngest members of the global basketball governing body FIBA.[5] The national team has appeared at every FIBA Africa Championship since 1997. South Africa was the birthplace to Steve Nash, two-time MVP in the NBA.[6]


A number of large canoe events occur annually in South Africa:


Chess is growing rapidly in popularity in South Africa. Major events include:


The Proteas at The Oval in August 2008.

Cricket is the second most popular sport in South Africa. It is popular among English-speaking whites. It is the only sport in South Africa to feature in the top two sports of all race groups. The national team is known as the Proteas. The nick name is one of the most famous nicknames used by the sports journalists.

South Africa is one of the leading cricket-playing nations in the world and one of ten countries that is sanctioned to play test cricket. Ever since the readmission into the International Cricket the Proteas have been contributing largely to the development of the game mainly by bringing innovations in the coaching and training. South Africans are famous for its fast bowlers and fielders like AB De Villiers and Jonty Rhodes.

Cricket was traditionally popular among English-speaking whites and the Asian community, though the latter were not able to compete in top-level South African cricket in the apartheid era. Since the end of the apartheid era, a higher proportion of white players have come from Afrikaans-speaking backgrounds, and attempts have been made to increase the number of non-white players, in part through a quota system. The current national team features prominent non-white players, such as Ashwell Prince, Hashim Amla (the first Muslim to play for South Africa), Herschelle Gibbs, Monde Zondeki, Loots Bosman, Charl Langeveldt, and Makhaya Ntini. Afrikaners in the team include AB de Villiers, Albie Morkel, Morné Morkel, Johan Botha and Dale Steyn.

The team has had success with batsmen like Herschelle Gibbs, who is one of the sport's most dominating batsmen, all-rounders like Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock, the former being one of the greatest all rounders of the game, and bowlers such as Makhaya Ntini, who reached number two in the ICC Player Rankings in 2006. Dale Steyn is currently ranked as one of the best test bowlers, and captain Graeme Smith is one of the most dominant left-handed batsmen in world cricket today. Wicketkeeper Mark Boucher has the world record for the most number of dismissals for a wicketkeeper and continues playing for the team. Kevin Pietersen, who is white, left the country claiming that he was put at a disadvantage by positive discrimination, and within a few years became one of the world's top batsmen, playing for England. South Africa is one of the strongest teams and in 2006, in Johannesburg in what was the highest scoring 50 over ODI ever, South Africa led by Gibbs' 175 chased down Australia's mammoth and then world record score of 434–4. South Africa hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup an event that was disappointing to them as they lost against Sri Lanka in what happened to be in a farcical situation and were eliminated on home soil. In the 2007 Cricket World Cup, South Africa reached the semi-finals of the event but lost to Australia.

South Africans are the current top test team and the most consistent team in the test format for the last half decade. They are often considered as fearsome for the teams touring from Sub continent because of their brutal fast bowling. Still in the shorter format of the game called ODI they are just an ordinary side.


Major events: Cape Argus Cycle Race and 94.7 Cycle Challenge

South Africa has a strong cycle race scene. The most notable cyclist is Robert Hunter who won a stage in the 2007 Tour de France. Robert Hunter rode that tour with Team Barloworld who had gained a wildcard entry to the Tour de France that year. Although Barloworld are based in the UK, the team was considered to be a South African team.

Cycling South Africa or CyclingSA is the national governing body of cycling in South Africa.

Another South African, Greg Minnaar, is a 7-time downhill mountain bike world champion.

At the 2013 Tour de France, Daryl Impey became the first African cyclist to wear the yellow jersey as race leader, which he held for two stages.


Football is very popular sport in South Africa.


Golf in South Africa has a long and illustrious history and South Africa is one of the great golfing nations. Golf is easily the best individual sports event that South Africans participate in, with the quantity and quality of South African players being of the top order.

The first South African to win a major championship was Bobby Locke who won The British Open four times in 1949, 1950, 1952 and 1957.

The most famous of South African golfers is however Gary Player who along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus dominated world golf for much of the 1960s and 1970s. Player won all four majors, winning the British Open in 1959, 1968 and 1974, The Masters in 1961, 1974 and 1978, the PGA Championship in 1962 and 1972 and the U.S Open just once in 1965. Player always played in his trademark black outfits and became one of the recognisable figures in the sport. He also enjoyed considerable success in senior golf, winning six majors on the Champions Tour (then the Senior PGA Tour) from 1986 to 1990. The only other South African to have won a senior major is Simon Hobday, winner of the U.S. Senior Open in 1994.

Current players who have won majors are 1994, 1997 U.S. Open and 2002 British Open Champion Ernie Els, 2001 and 2004 U.S. Open Champion Retief Goosen, 2008 Masters Champion Trevor Immelman, British Open Champion Louis Oosthuizen and 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel. Other notable players include Tim Clark with 2 Nationwide Tour wins and winner of the PGA 2010 Players Championship.

The country has had less success in women's golf. The only South African woman to have won a major was Sally Little, who won the LPGA Championship in 1980. Little later became a U.S. citizen and won a second major, the 1988 du Maurier Classic, as an American.

British golfer Justin Rose is South Africa-born, but was raised from age 5 in England, and chose to play his trade for that country.

Mind Sports

Founded on 14 December 1984, Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) has hosted five world championships in Johannesburg in 1997, Cape Town in 1999, Durban in 2002, Port Elizabeth in 2007, and again in Durban in 2012. The MSSA looks after the following games:

Board gaming

Backgammon, Draughts (Anglo-American, Pool Checkers and International), Morabaraba (also known as Mlabalaba), Moruba, SesothoMorabaraba

Figure gaming

Ancients (3000 BC to 1500 AD), Pike & Shot (1500 AD to 1700 AD), Horse & Musket (1700 to 1845), World War II (1939 to 1945)


Mobile gaming, PSP gaming, Personal computer gaming

Motor sports

South Africa has staged Formula One Grand Prix, the last being the 1993 race at the Kyalami circuit. It has produced one Formula One world champion, Jody Schekter, who triumphed for Ferrari in 1979. South Africa was also one of the host nations for the A1 Grand Prix.

Motor rallying and off road (4x4) racing are also widely popular in South Africa. The 2009 Dakar Rally was won by South African Giniel de Villiers in a Volkswagen Touareg.

Rugby league

Rugby league (XIII), is a growing spectator sport in South Africa in recent years it has struggled to gain a foothold in the country due to the popularity of sports such as football (soccer), rugby union, cricket and even Australian rules football and also due to their location meaning a lack of meaningful international matches.

The South Africa national rugby league team (Rhinos) is ranked 24th in the world out of 29 countries ranked and doesn't enjoy the success or media attention that the rugby union team gets. The national team dates back to the early 60's and have featured in 2 World Cups, the 1995 Rugby League World Cup and the 2000 Rugby League World Cup.[7][8]

South African players who have played professionally in Australasia's St. George Illawarra Dragons).

There are currently 3 competitions the Rhino Cup consisting of 4 teams, the Protea Cup consisting of 8 and the Western Province Rugby League consisting of 5.

Rugby union

The 1906 Springboks team.

Rugby union is a popular sport in South Africa, especially amongst Afrikaners. The national team is known as the Springboks. South Africa hosted and won the 1995 Rugby World Cup, in what was their first appearance. The defeat of the All Blacks in the final is remembered as one of the most famous South African sporting moments. The domestic league – the Currie Cup is also played annually, as well as the international Super Rugby.

After being tainted by associations with apartheid, the Springboks (or 'Boks') have sought to become part of the 'New South Africa', with President Nelson Mandela wearing the Springbok jersey, once only worn by whites, at the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

South Africa won the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 2007 Rugby World Cup.


South African Sailing is the national governing body for the sport of sailing in South Africa, recognised by the International Sailing Federation.

Skydiving and Parachuting

There are 20 registered drop zones / skydiving clubs in South Africa, all are affiliated to the Parachute Association of South Africa (PASA).


Eastern Cape Open Water event at Marina Martinique
Major events: Midmar Mile


South Africa used to be a country with good tennis players but this has all but died away with the new post-apartheid administration of the sport. The most recent tennis players who made it into the world top ten rankings are Wayne Ferreira and Amanda Coetzer.

South Africa has only had one grand slam tournament winner, and that was Johan Kriek who won the Australian Open in 1981. He won again in 1982 but had acquired American citizenship and played as an American that year. Kevin Curren made the Australian Open final in 1984, and the following year, shortly after becoming an American citizen, was on the receiving end of the then-17-year-old Boris Becker's famous first win at Wimbledon. Other South African Grand Slam finalists include Eric Sturgess, Ian Vermaak, Cliff Drysdale, Brian Norton, Sandra Reynoldsa, and Irene Bowder Peacock.


Willie Smith, circa 1920s.

As of March 2012 when WBO).[9] South Africa had eight world champions in 1998.[11]

However, according to Jeffrey Mathebula's trainer Nick Durandt who has trained world champions such as Thulani Malinga and Phillip N'dou in his 25-year career,[13] South Africa had not been able to host the world title bouts due to lack of funds, and boxers had been forced to fight overseas for world titles.[14][15][16] The Gauteng sports department has been cooperative,[13] but sponsorship and television coverage significantly dropped in thirty years.[13] Boxing matches had not been broadcast on the state-owned broadcaster SABC from early 2011,[16][17] and only a few cards had been aired on the satellite pay-TV platform SuperSport.[13] Durandt had also mentioned that it is almost impossible to hold fights including world title bouts without SABC's support in their own country.[16] Under such background, as a result of the efforts of Branco Sports Promotions' Branco Milenkovic and others,[16] it was decided that the IBF junior featherweight title bout between Takalani Ndlovu and Mathebula would be televised on SABC at the last minute.[18] “We support the muted multi-lateral agreement involving the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), SuperSport and the BSA [Boxing South Africa] on broadcasting rights,” Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula stated in March 2013.[19] However, after Simpiwe Vetyeka won the world title in December of that year,[20] Bongani Mwelase told that Vetyeka came home to receive an "ice-cold welcome" from the local newspapers and so on but with the only exception of Nelson Mandela. "Nothing is motivating if you really look at how boxing is treated here," he said.[21]

Mixed Martial Arts

South Africa host Extreme Fighting Championship Africa or just simply known as EFC Africa .[22] It is the number 1 mixed martial arts organisation in the African continent.

EFC Africa 01 took place at The Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate, Johannesburg on 12 November 2009 and is now viewing in 110 countries, including USA, Canada, The Caribbean and all over Europe. EFC Africa 19, which was held at Carnival City in Johannesburg on 19 April 2013, topped other African sports ratings with a record of over 1.8 million views with 31.3% of the total South African TV audience (SABC, and DStv combined). These are the biggest ratings in EFC Africa history, topping EFC Africa 12's record of 1.6 million views and 25.9% audience share.[23]

On 19 June 2004, Cape Town's Trevor Prangley made his UFC debut. He defeated Curtis Stout by submission via cobra choke in round 2 at UFC 48. His last fight in the UFC was against Chael Sonnen, who he defeated previously by arm bar submission in round 1 before they both started fighting in the UFC. Sonnen defeated him by unanimous decision at UFC Ultimate Fight Night 4. His record with the UFC was 2 wins and 2 losses.

South African-born English fighter Fraser Opie competed on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen, season 17 of the UFC's reality television show. He lost to Clint Hester in the preliminary round via unanimous decision. Fraser is now signed to EFC Africa.

In February 2014, EFC Africa Heavyweight Champion, Ruan Potts, signed with the UFC. He fought Soa Palelei at UFC Fight Night 40 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio on 10 May 2014 on his UFC debut. He lost via first round KO.

Other sports

South Africa has a number of disabled athletes, most notably Oscar Pistorius, the double amputee world record holder at 200 and 400 metres; and swimmer Natalie du Toit, who became the first amputee to compete in swimming at the (able-bodied) Olympics in 2008. In triathlon, Conrad Stoltz is a three time Xterra Triathlon world champion, Raynard Tissink is a multiple Ironman champion, Hendrick de Villiers is an ITU World Cup winner, Richard Murray is an ITU World Triathlon Series race winner and Dan Hugo is an Xterra and multi-sport star.

Traditional sports

  • Jukskei is a 200-year-old folk sport developed and played in South Africa.
  • Morabaraba

See also


  1. ^ While it continues to be much-disputed, Herb Goldman who was the editor of The RING Record Book has decided that Willie Smith had indeed earned it.[12]


  1. ^ 1964: South Africa banned from Olympics, BBC
  2. ^ Race, Gender and Sport in Post-Apartheid South Africa, The Sports Journal
  3. ^ Sebastien Van Heyningen (30 July 2012), Olympics 2012: Oscar Pistorius just wants to compete,  
  4. ^ Buffaloes over Convicts – match report from
  5. ^ FIBA National Federations – South Africa,, accessed 17 February 2012.
  6. ^ Governor General Announces New Appointments to the Order of Canada,, accessed 9 March 2008.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Ron Jackson (5 March 2012 (updated 26 March 2012)). "Mathebula SA's 71st world champ".  
  10. ^ "Willie Smith". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  11. ^ a b "South African Boxing". Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  12. ^ "Willie Smith - The Uncrowned World Champion". The Sweet Science. Retrieved 31 May 2012. 
  13. ^ a b c d  
  14. ^ "Durandt laments state of boxing in SA".  
  15. ^ Durandt laments state of boxing in SA ( 
  16. ^ a b c d David Isaacson (14 March 2012). "TV blackout killing boxing".  
  17. ^ Nick Gordon (14 March 2012). "Durandt bemoans SA boxing".  
  18. ^ Ramatsiyi Moholoa (22 March 2012). "SABC throws boxing a lifeline". The Sowetan. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  19. ^ "Mbalula on bid to return boxing to former glory". SABC. 20 March 2013. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  20. ^ Ron Jackson (7 December 2013). "SA boxers have won 123 'world' titles". SuperSport. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  21. ^ Bongani Magasela (January 6, 2014). "South Africa ignores dual champion Vetyeka, says veteran boxer Mwelase".  
  22. ^ "EFC Africa: Extreme Fighting Championship". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  23. ^ "EFC Africa: Latest MMA Ratings Smash Other African Sports". Retrieved 25 April 2013. 

External links

  • South African Department of Sport and Recreation
  • Swimming South Africa
  • Rustenburg SkyDiving Club
  • Parachute Association of South Africa (PASA)
  • SNT Sports Official Distributor of Sports equipment
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