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Sport in South Africa

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

Rugby Union has traditionally been the most popular sport in South Africa amongst White South Africans. The national rugby team is nicknamed The Springboks. South Africa hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the first one hosted in Africa.

Cricket is traditionally the popular sport among 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.

Soccer has historically been particularly popular amongst persons of African descent and is South Africa’s most popular sport. The South Africa national soccer team, Bafana Bafana, has not enjoyed considerable success since the early 20th Century.

Other popular sports include: boxing, hockey, tennis, golf, surfing, netball, running and also obstacle course racing.

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 hosts the Saddle Seat World Cup every four years, which includes the American Saddlebred, Morgan horse, and South African Boerperd horse breeds. It is the highest level of competition for Saddle seat Equitation riders,


South Africa was banned from the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo due to the apartheid policies. 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 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”.


  • Silver Falcons
  • Flying Lions Aerobatic Team

Athletics (running)

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.

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 4 × 100 m 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 minor sport in South Africa. Since 1996 the sport has been growing quickly and especially amongst the indigenous communities. South Africa 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. There are annual national championships, first held in 2008. The South African national team also competes in the Australian Football International Cup, essentially a World Cup for all countries apart from Australia, the only place where the sport is played professionally. The South African national team’s highest finish at the International Cup was third, 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. The national team competes at the FIBA Africa Championship.

So far, no basketball player of South African nationality has made it to the NBA. However, South Africa was the birthplace to Steve Nash, two-time MVP in the NBA, and Swiss NBA player Thabo Sefolosha has a South African father.


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

  • Dusi Canoe Marathon
  • Fish River Canoe Marathon
  • Berg River Canoe Marathon


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

  • South African Open
  • South African Chess Championship


Cricket is the second most popular sport in South Africa.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.

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

Cricket was traditionally popular among English-speaking whites and the Asian (Subcontinent) 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 former captain Graeme Smith was one of the most dominant left-handed batsmen in recent world cricket history. Wicketkeeper Mark Boucher has the world record for the most number of dismissals for a wicketkeeper. 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 Cape Town 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. They were sent home by New Zealand in the 2011 Cricket World Cup and the same team had defeated them in the 2015 Cricket World Cup in a thrilling semi-final.

South Africans are at the top and are a 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.


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. Also, he claimed nine wins at the South African Open, seven at the South Africa Professional and 11 at the Transvaal Open, for a total 74 professional wins.

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 for that country.

The Sunshine Tour is based in South Africa but has a few events in other African countries. Several tournaments have been sanctioned by the European Tour since the 1990s:

  • South African PGA Championship (1995-1999)
  • FNB Players Championship (1996)
  • Dimension Data Pro-Am (1996-1997)
  • South African Open (1997–present)
  • Alfred Dunhill Championship (1990–present)
  • Joburg Open (2007–present)
  • Africa Open (2010–present)
  • Nelson Mandela Championship (2012-2013)
  • Volvo Golf Champions (2012-2014)
  • Tshwane Open (2013–present)
  • Nedbank Golf Challenge (2013–present)

Also, the South African Women’s Open was part of the Ladies European Tour from 2012 to 2014. South Africa has hosted the 2003 Presidents Cup and the Women’s World Cup of Golf from 2005 to 2008.

Mind Sports
Founded on 14 December 1984, Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) has hosted five world championships in Cape Town 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, Brazilian, Pool Checkers, Russian 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)


Console, PSP gaming, Personal computer gaming, mobile gaming, etc.

Motor sports

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

Former Indycar Series driver and son of Jody, Tomas Scheckter, led the most laps in both his first two Indianapolis 500 starts. Which was 85 laps during the 2002 Indianapolis 500 and 63 laps during the 2003 Indianapolis 500. He has two career Indycar victories during his career. He has driven full-time for Cheever Racing in 2002, Chip Ganassi Racing in 2003, Panther Racing in 2004 and 2005 and Vision Racing in 2006 and 2007. He has also driven for Luczo Dragon Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and other teams part-time later in his career until 2011.

Motor rallying and off-road (4×4) 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 other sports receive. 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.

South African players who have played professionally in Australasia’s NRL and the European Super League include Tom Van Vollenhoven (St Helens R.F.C.), Jamie Bloem (Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants and Halifax) and Jarrod Saffy (Wests Tigers and St. George Illawarra Dragons).

There are currently three 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.
Main article: Rugby union in South Africa
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).

Obstacle Course Racing

Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) is a major up and coming sport with major support both Nationally and Internationally, SA OCR is a Not for Profit Company aiming to help grow the sport and provide a means of financial support for athletes wanting to travel to compete internationally. With the OCR World Championships running for 3 consecutive years now as well as some of the larger local race series like The Warrior Race which have been around for almost 4 years the sport is definitely growing with events reaching almost 9000 participants on a weekend. The sport involves running, usually around 12 km, with various amounts of different obstacles interspersed allowing for a dynamic and ever changing event.

Association Football

Association football is the most popular sport in South Africa.


Surfing has a following but is mainly practised by white South Africans.


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 and white diaspora due to anti white racism and anti white violence. The most recent tennis players who made it into the world top ten rankings are Wayne Ferreira, Amanda Coetzer and Kevin Anderson.

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, Irene Bowder Peacock and Kevin Anderson.


In triathlon, Henri Schoeman is an Olympic bronze medallist, finishing third at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. 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.


As of March 2012 when Jeffrey Mathebula won the IBF junior featherweight title, South Africa has produced seventy-one world champions since Willie Smith won the British version of the world bantamweight title. In addition to the universally recognised world champion Vic Toweel, the number contains champions recognised by the major and nonmajor sanctioning bodies, and seventy-one world champions have won one hundred and fourteen titles including thirty-five titles for the four major sanctioning bodies (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO). South Africa had eight world champions in 1998.

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, 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. The Gauteng sports department has been cooperative, but sponsorship and television coverage significantly dropped in thirty years. Boxing matches had not been broadcast on the state-owned broadcaster SABC from early 2011, and only a few cards had been aired on the satellite pay-TV platform SuperSport. Durandt had also mentioned that it is almost impossible to hold fights including world title bouts without SABC’s support in their own country. Under such background, as a result of the efforts of Branco Sports Promotions’ Branco Milenkovic and others, it was decided that the IBF junior featherweight title bout between Takalani Ndlovu and Mathebula would be televised on SABC at the last minute. “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. However, after Simpiwe Vetyeka won the world title in December of that year, 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.

Mixed Martial Arts

South Africa host Extreme Fighting Championship Worldwide (formerly known as EFC Africa). 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, Cape Town 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 Cape Town 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 history, topping EFC Africa 12’s record of 1.6 million views and 25.9% audience share.

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.

United Kingdom based South African 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 signed with EFC after competing on the show. He beat Egypt’s Mohamad Ali via TKO in round 1 on his EFC debut at EFC 22, then lost to then-defending champion Gideon Drotshie for the EFC Light Heavyweight Title via TKO in round 2 at EFC 25 and then lost to Tumelo Maphutha via submission from punches in round 1 at EFC 27. Opie was set to fight Pete Motaung at EFC 34 but was removed from the card due to a dispute about travel arrangements according to Opie and was replaced by former opponent Tumelo Maphutha. While EFC seem to have refused a previously agreed direct flight for Fraser, the agreement appears to have fallen through with EFC only willing to provide indirect flights with a connecting flight that would increase the over all travel time which Opie suggested is simply not possible due to his demanding weight cut. In result, Fraser Opie was cut from EFC.

In February 2014, EFC 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. His next fight was at UFC 177 Prelims on 30 August 2014 at The Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California against Anthony Hamilton. He lost in round 2 via TKO due to continuous body shots.

In December 2014, the UFC signed EFC Middleweight Champion Garreth McLellan. He made his debut on 11 April 2015 at UFC Fight Night: Gonzaga vs Cro Cop 2 in Krakow, Poland. He was originally scheduled to fight Poland’s Krzysztof Jotko. Jotko pulled out of the fight. He fought another Polishman in Bartorsz Fabinski. He lost via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). At UFC Fight Night: Holohan vs. Smolka in Dublin, Ireland on October 24, 2015, McLellan got his first UFC win which was against Bubba Bush. McLellan finished Bush with a second to go via TKO in round 3.

In January 2015, EFC President Cairo Howarth announced the opening of the EFC Women’s Flyweight Division. The first EFC women’s fight took place at EFC 37 on February 21 at Carnival City in Cape Town. Cape Town’s own Danella Eliasov fought Hungary’s Zita Varju. Eliasov won via TKO in round 1. Their first Women’s Flyweight Champion was crowned at EFC 60 when Amanda Lino defeated Jaqualine Trosse in a rematch by armbar in round 2. The Inaugural title fight was meant to be between Amanda Lino and Shana Power at EFC 54 but Shana couldn’t make weight and was not medically cleared to compete. Jaqualine Trosse and Shana Power fought at EFC 56. Trosse won the fight via unanimous decision and was given the fight against Lino for the vacant title at EFC 60 which she lost.

EFC Flyweight Champion, Nkazimulo Zulu competed The Ultimate Fighter: Tournament of Champions. The winner is set to fight Demetrious Johnson for the UFC Flyweight Championship. He fought Japan’s Hiromasa Ogikubo in the first round on the tournament. He lost via submission due to a rear naked choke in round 2.

Traditional sports

  • Jukskei is a 200-year-old folk sport developed and played in South Africa.
  • Morabaraba. Please refer to Mind Sports above as the game is promoted by Mind Sports South Africa.

South African national teams

South Africa’s national sporting colours are green, gold and white. The protea is the national emblem worn by South Africans representing their country in sport.

National team names
The national men’s rugby union team is nicknamed the “Springboks”, while the national men’s cricket team is known as the “Proteas”.

Sport Men’s Women’s
Australian rules football Lions n/a
Cricket Proteas Proteas Women
Football Bafana Bafana Banyana Banyana
Mind Sports MWEB Protea Team MWEB Protea Team
Netball n/a SPAR Proteas
Rugby league Rhinos n/a
Rugby sevens Blitzbokke South Africa women’s national rugby union team (sevens)
Rugby union Springboks South Africa women’s national rugby union team
Waterpolo Black Mamba South Africa women’s national water polo team