5 Biggest Sports In South Africa

Sport is immensely popular in South Africa, and SA is one of the few nations on the African continent to be passionate about more than just one or two chief sports.  Especially since the country’s multi-decade international sporting ban (due to apartheid) was lifted, South Africa’s rich sporting history has become a major source of national pride.  Part of this is due to the legalisation of gambling on sport in the early 2000s, which has made supporting the The Proteas (cricket), Bafana Bafana (football), and The Springboks (rugby) an even more exciting pastime.

Which sport is the “biggest” is up for debate.  But few would argue that the below are the five biggest sports in South Africa.

Cycling

Cycling is getting more and more popular with South Africans, in part due to SA hosting the two largest individually-timed bike races in the world.  The biggest of these, the Cape Town Cycle Tour, has has seen over 35,000 entrants in recent years and was the first event in the UCI’s Golden Bike series to take place outside of Europe.

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The Cape Town Cycle Tour is the world’s largest race of its kind. (Source: InsideGuide.co.za)

South Africans have also obtained a fair amount of success on the international cycling stage.  In 2007, Johannesburg-native Robert Hunter became the first South African to win a stage at the Tour De France, and just six years later Daryl Impey became the first to wear the yellow jersey as tour leader.

Golf

South Africa has some of the best golf courses in the world, so it’s no surprise that it has been the nation’s most successful individual sport.  Initially put on the world golf map in the 1950s and 60s when Bobby Locke won the British Open four times in just nine years, the country’s reputation as a golfing power was only further cemented in the 70s with the rise of Gary Player.  “The Black Knight” remains just one of five players in the modern history of the game to win all four Majors in his career.

Since then, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Louis Oosthuizen, and Charl Schwartzel have all won majors and been recognizable South African faces on the PGA Tour at one point or another.

Rugby

Over 430,000 South Africans are registered rugby players, making it the second or third most popular sport in the nation depending on who you ask.  Rugby played an integral part in ushering in South Africa’s new, post-apartheid era.  Hosting their first major international sporting event, the 1995 Rugby World Cup, South Africa’s National Team would overcome their underdog status to improbably win the entire tournament.  The image of Nelson Mandela presenting the Webb Ellis Cup to captain Francois Pienaar remains one of the most iconic in the nation’s history.

Mandela & Pienaar

President Nelson Mandela presenting the 1995 Rugby World Cup trophy to Francois Pienaar is one of the most iconic moments in the history of the nation (and in all of sport).  (Source: TheGuardian.com)

The Boks won another World Cup in 2007, and have five teams competing in the Super Rugby competition which also involves teams from Australia, Japan, Argentina, and New Zealand.  Pretoria’s Bulls are currently the only non-New Zealand or Australia side to win the Super Rugby trophy, hoisting it three times between 2007 and 2010.

A Sports Scene Primed For Betting

With thousands of fans across SA enjoying all these sports, it’s no surprise that the sports betting scene surrounding it is absolutely huge.  It’s become easier over the last couple of years to place a bet on your favourite team, via your tablet or mobile.  Websites including OnlineGambling.co.za cater specifically to the South African sports betting market.  The most popular sports to be on are probably football and cricket, but the big betting operators cover pretty much everything.

Cricket

Named The Proteas after South Africa’s national flower, in 2012 the South African National Cricket Team became the first national team to be ranked number one in all three formats of the sport (test, ODI, T20).  Even though they have a reputation of being “chokers” on the big stage and have never made it past the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup, ICC World T20, or ICC Champions Trophy tournaments, cricket still has immense popularity in South Africa, especially among English speakers, the Asian/Muslim communities, and Afrikaans-speaking whites.

Football

Football, or soccer, is far and away South Africa’s most popular sport.  It’s estimated that over two million South Africans play, and even though the sport fell victim to segregation for a century, both Bafana Bafana and the Premier Soccer League are sources of national pride and draw large crowds.

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Already a soccer-crazy country, South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup boosted the game’s popularity even further. (Source: juanfernandomoreno.com)

Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has played in three World Cups and also hosted the 2010 tournament (the first time an African nation has ever had that honour).  South Africa was also instrumental as one of the founding members of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), and twice hosted the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, winning the whole thing in 1996.