Sports in Africa traces its origins far back in history, and the continent is now widely recognized globally for its excellence in various sporting fields. Africa has become a bedrock of vibrant sporting talent that cuts across various disciplines. Sports is widely respected across the continent because it brings people together irrespective of their culture and social affiliation.
Today, the sporting industry continues to positively contribute to the African economy. Africa now enjoys an equal opportunity to host high-profile global sporting events that have put Africa on the international sports map. Notable African sports personalities have raised the profile of the continent by excelling in various sporting disciplines and are now global sports personalities.
Africa has various different sports, but what are the popular sports in Africa?
From North to South, East to West Africa, football is, no doubt, Africa’s most popular and favorite sport. Football is an incredibly exciting game with origins tracing back to the 1800s when the British, French and Portuguese colonialists introduced the sport to Africa. Unlike other sports, football requires minimal resources, and for this reason, it has penetrated every part of Africa. It’s common to find youngsters across the continent, including rural areas, enjoying playing football. Football talent in Africa mostly begins at the grassroots level, and for this reason, many football stars began their careers on local football pitches.
The proliferation of African football clubs began more than 50 years ago, and since then, the number of professional football clubs and leagues have been on the rise. Today, there are many local, as well as regional and continental football leagues across Africa. Many football clubs in Africa receive sponsorship from the private sector and government, which has increased the popularity of the game.
Today, over 100 players drawn from various African teams on the continent play in the first division league in Europe, United States, and South America. In 2010, South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time on African soil, which was a major boost for African soccer.
Countries well-known for their soccer prowess having performed well in global tournaments include Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Cameroon, Tunisia, and Senegal. Notable African football personalities include Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor, Yaya Toure, as well as many others. Interestingly, more than 80% of African players who play in World Cup play for various clubs in Europe.
According to the latest world FIFA rankings released on August 10, 2017, Egypt tops the African continent at position 25 globally with 866 points. Democratic Republic of Congo is 2nd in Africa and position 28 globally with 822 points, with Senegal in 3rd position on the continent and position 31 globally with 794 points. Other African countries are Tunisia in 4th in Africa and 34th position globally with 776 points, Cameroon in 5th position in Africa and 35th position globally with 737 points, and Nigeria in 6th position in Africa and 38th position in the world with 716 points. Football is indeed one of the most loved sports in Africa.
The popularity of rugby has increased rapidly, especially in the recent years when the sport has gained a foothold in a couple of countries in Africa. Did you know South Africa, alone, has over 600,000 registered rugby players? Rugby’s popularity on the continent began in South Africa where it played a key role in ushering in South Africa’s post-apartheid era. Other African countries that have excelled in this sport include Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana.
In 1995, South Africa’s national team, Springboks, won the Rugby World Cup on home soil and Nelson Mandela, then South Africa’s president, wore a No. 6 shirt for Francois Pienaar, a white South African. This was a great moment for South Africa’s racial reconciliation as the two openly embraced cooling down racial tensions.
In Kenya, the rugby industry has grown rapidly with the international annual Safari Sevens Tournament attracting participants from all over the world. In 2016, the Kenyan National Rugby Team won the IRB Sevens World Series in Dubai.
The number of rugby players has been increasing steadily, with South Africa having over 600,000 registered rugby players. On the other hand, Kenya has 40,000 registered players, of whom 3,000 are women and 30,000 are teenagers. According to World Rugby Rankings released on July 17, 2017, South Africa was ranked 5th globally behind New Zealand, England, Ireland, and Australia.
Even though cycling has always been associated with western nations, the sport has increasingly become popular in Africa. Cycling is a fast-growing sensation and very popular in South Africa, which is famous for its scenic and exciting cycling routes. The diverse cycling routes allow participants to encounter various ecosystems to include streets lined with trees and luscious vineyards.
The Cape Town Cycle Tour, which attracts over 35,000 cyclists, is the world’s largest individually-timed cycling race in the world. Currently in South Africa, there are over 25,600 registered cycling members, of which 2,600 are holders of competitive licenses, 550 track cyclists, 100 paracyclists and 400 BMX cyclists. One of South Africa’s top cyclists include Greg Minnaar, a three-time UCI Mountain Bike World Cup winner. In 2013, Chris Froome, Tour de France winner, launched his professional cycling career in South Africa.
Eritrea is also seen as an upcoming cycling nation, whose great talent and potential has seen Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus become the first Africans to participate in Tour de France. What many do not know is that in 1898, Italian colonialists were the first to introduce bicycles in Eritrea, and ever since, cycling has remained a favorite sport.
Asmara City is popular for its rich biking culture mostly comprised of unique vintage bikes. Neighboring Ethiopia is famous for women’s cycling with phenomenal talent at the grassroots. Other countries that have taken up cycling as a sport include Algeria and Kenya.
Africa is an athletics powerhouse, especially in field and track events where the continent has performed extremely well in global competitions. There is no doubt that athletics has put Africa on the global map, and these success stories began a couple of decades ago. Excellent talent on the continent has seen African athletes shine and break major world records at high-profile global sporting events. Several countries in Africa are known for their sterling athletic performance to include Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Algeria.
African athletes play a huge role in promoting Africa as a sports continent. In addition, sports tourism has been on a steady incline as a result of the hype and success of athletes. The history of athletics in Africa stretches back to the time of Reggie Walker, a South African sprinter, who became the first African to win an Olympic 100 meter gold medal in 1908.
As countries started gaining independence, athletics continued to increase in popularity with many key personalities winning major international races. Kenya has talented athletes to include Kipchoge Keino, who, in 1968, won the 1500-meter Olympic gold medal in Mexico. Famous Ethiopian athletes include the late Abebe Bikila, double Olympic champion, and retired Haile Gebrselassie, a long distance track champion. Other notable athletic figures in Kenya include David Rudisha, World 800-meter record holder, Asbel Kiprop, Ezekiel Kemboi, as well as 2015 World Champion javelin thrower, Julius Yego.
Women who have excelled in Athletics include Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba, two-time marathon world champion, Ethiopia’s multiple world champion, Tirunesh Dibaba, Mozambique’s Maria Mutola, and four-time Olympic champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, from Kenya. According to IAAF World Championships Athletics All-Time Medal Table Data, Kenya tops in Africa medal standings with 128 medals, Ethiopia with 72 medals, and South Africa with 21 medals.
Cricket is a popular sport in Africa, especially in South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. Just like other sports, cricket has become popular and appreciated across the continent. A few decades ago, only white people were allowed to play cricket in South Africa in line with the Apartheid policy. South Africa was banned from participating in international cricket for over 20 years because of apartheid.
After the apartheid regime lost power, South Africa was allowed to participate in international cricket tournaments. In 1992, World Cup fixture against Sri Lanka, Omar Henry was the first South African black player in history to play for the national team. In 2003, Africa hosted the Cricket World Cup which was co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.
Cricket is also being used to empower communities with a perfect example being the youthful Maasai Warriors in Kenya, who have abandoned the traditional spear and are using cricket to help fight outlawed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. This applaudable community initiative has earned the team a lot of admiration, support, and global recognition.
Other countries where cricket is played include Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. In Nigeria, cricket is the oldest sport with the first official international match played in 1904, twenty years before Nigeria participated in a football match. Today, many African countries are taking part in numerous international cricket matches while posting impressive results.
According to ICC ODI Championship, South Africa ranks first with 50 matches, 5957 points, and a rating of 119. On the other hand, Zimbabwe has played 41 matches, earning 2129 points, and a rating of 52.
Wrestling has always been part of many African communities since time immemorial, where wrestling matches were common in village arenas. This tradition has continued in many communities to this day, particularly in Senegal, Sudan Nubian communities and Southern Egypt where wrestling is quite popular. Successful wrestlers are well-respected and become famous celebrities. Nubian wrestling dates back over 3,000 years and is one of the most ancient martial arts.
Wrestling is the favorite sport in Senegal ahead of soccer, and has also played a key role in social integration and economic empowerment. Aside from being a sport, it is a perfect representation of African culture and tradition. Senegal is one of the most popular and active national sports hubs in West Africa, and for this reason, Senegalese wrestling is now watched across the borders.
Wrestling began in the villages hundreds of years ago, and farmers would go to wrestle to pass the time or watch various fights. During the dry season, the farmers went to the city in search of jobs and realized city dwellers were willing to pay money to watch them wrestle and place bets on matches. Because of poverty, rural dwellers would then fight and entertain the urban dwellers in order to earn money, thus making the sport a favorite in the city.
Wrestling matches are lively with singing, dancing, cheering, and also attract large crowds. They mostly take place in sandy areas where wrestlers attempt to bring down their opponents by making their back, knees or shoulders touch the sand.
Most wrestling bouts don’t last long and end in a couple of seconds or a few minutes. Statistics have revealed that wrestling receives annual sponsorships of about $1 million to $2 million per year. Stadiums flock to capacity and the stakes are high as top national wrestlers can earn up to $200,000 per game. Many African youth see wrestling as a ticket out of poverty, despair and crime. Despite beginning as a traditional sport synonymous with the village, wrestling has become a popular urban sport and there is no doubt the future is bright.
Motor rallies in Africa are known all over the continent and globally, making rallying one of the most popular sports in Africa. The rugged African roads and off-road terrain is a favorite for rally lovers. African rallies are considered to be the most challenging in the world and bring together renowned and upcoming rally drivers.
The number of spectators has continued to grow every successive year as various events are staged around the continent. Countries where rallying is common include Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. The Africa Rally Championship (ARC) is an annual event that is held across several selected African countries.
The KCB Safari Rally in Kenya is one of the most hyped and well-attended events on the African continent. Launched in 1953, fans come from across the world to witness this spectacular event that receives massive media attention. This rally is known as KCB Safari Rally because it is sponsored by the Kenya Commercial Bank.
The Dakar Rally was originally known as Paris-Dakar Rally since it followed the Dakar–Paris route. The Dakar Rally began in 1978 and grew to become one of the best known rallies in the world. However, in 2009, security threats compelled organizers to change the venue to South America.
Other major rally events in Africa include the East African Safari Classic Rally, whose first event was held in 2003. This rally was launched as an initiative to revive the excitement associated with rallying. Participants in this rally come from all over the world and only classic cars are permitted to participate in the competition. The route traverses rugged rural landscapes in both Kenya and Tanzania.
Other rallies held on the continent include Uganda’s Pearl of Africa Rally that started in 1997, Zambia International Motor Rally, which happens to be one of the oldest rallies in Africa, and Rallye Cote d’Ivoire.
Despite many rallying tournaments on the continent facing numerous challenges such as lack of adequate sponsorship, the sport is still popular. In recent times, numerous newer and smaller corporate-sponsored rallying events are being held periodically in various countries around the African continent.
According to statistics released by FIA, the world motor sport body, Uganda tops the African continent with 2754 points in the 27th position nationally. Rwanda is in 2nd with 2124 points and 34th position globally. Zimbabwe takes the 3rd position in Africa and 38th globally with 1701 points.
Since its introduction in the 1960s, basketball has increasingly become popular and is played across the continent. Young African boys and girls love basketball and it’s widely played in neighborhoods for fun, as well dominates school competitions.
When you travel to many African cities, you will see numerous youngsters dressed in sweatshirts, vests and t-shirts with names of famous NBA players. Both public and private schools have availed basketball training facilities that allow youth to better their playing skills.
In recent times, the number of professional teams has increased with many basketball clinics organized to improve the quality of basketball. Some of the countries where basketball is common include Egypt, Tunisia, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Famous Africans who have played on the international stage include former NBA stars, Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo. Olajuwon is a former NBA star who was born in Nigeria and played for the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors. On the other hand, Mutombo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and successfully played 18 NBA seasons.
According to statistics from NIKE FIBA World Men Rankings last updated on August 21, 2016, Nigeria tops the continent at position 16 globally with 106.2 points. Tunisia is 2nd in Africa and 21st globally with 69.0 points. Other Africa countries that feature on the list are Angola at 23rd position with 66.0 points, Cote d’Ivoire at 40th position with 20.4 points, and Egypt at 41st position with 19.2 points.
There you have it, these are the top 8 most popular sports in Africa.
By : Nelly Gachanja
What is the most popular sports in Africa? ›
Association football (also known as soccer) is the most popular sport in almost all African countries. African club teams compete in the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup. African national teams compete in the Africa Cup of Nations and also in the African Nations Championship for local teams.What are the 3 main sports in Africa? ›
While many different sports are played in South Africa, this post will focus on what is known as “The Big Three” – football (soccer), rugby, and cricket.What is Africa's national game? ›
Mancala, the National Game of Africa.How many sports are there in Africa? ›
35 sports, 2 demonstration sports and 6 Para sports were presented in African Games history until 2019 African Games (also 1991 Diving and 1999 Netball were demonstration).What are the top 5 sports in South Africa? ›
Statistically, the most popular sports in South Africa are cricket, rugby and soccer. Other sports which enjoy a particularly good amount of following includes athletics, basketball, boxing, golf, netball, swimming, and tennis.What is the No 1 sport in South Africa? ›
Association football has historically been particularly popular amongst persons of African descent and is South Africa's most popular sport.What is South Africa's best sport? ›
As you have seen throughout this list, South Africa is extremely proficient at many sports, including rugby union, cricket, athletics, boxing and golf. Nothing comes close to rugby union though, as the Springboks are the current World champion, and they have always been a powerhouse ever since their debut.Which sports is most popular in world? ›
The sport has roughly 3.5 billion fans worldwide and 250 million players across 200 countries around the world. The next most popular sports in the world are cricket (2.5 billion fans), basketball (2.2 billion fans), and field hockey (2 billion).
Traditional wrestling is popular in West Africa especially in Senegal, The Gambia, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Togo where the sport is more organized with national tournaments, federations and arenas.Is cricket popular in Africa? ›
In Africa, although not nearly as popular as football, cricket is enjoyed and played primarily in three countries, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
What is Nigeria famous sport? ›
Football is the most popular sport in Nigeria. The Nigeria national football team competes regularly for international titles and many Nigerian footballers compete in Europe, particularly in England.What is the most popular sport in Kenya? ›
Today, many sports are popular in Kenya, played both professionally and as recreational physical activities. The most popular sport in Kenya is cricket.Is basketball popular in Africa? ›
Introduced in Africa during the middle of the 20th century by missionaries and colonial administration, Basketball is today the second most popular sport on the continent.What sport originated in Africa? ›
1. Ta Kurt Om El Mahag. There was a sport that bore a striking resemblance to the European based baseball called Ta kurt om el mahag played among Berber tribes people in the Libyan desert.Which sport is famous in Zimbabwe? ›
Sport in Zimbabwe has a long tradition and has produced many world recognized sports names and personalities. Football is the most popular sport, although rugby union, cricket, tennis, golf, and netball also have a following, traditionally among the middle class and the white minority.When did sports start in Africa? ›
British colonial officials, soldiers, traders and missionaries introduced European sports to South Africa in the mid 1800s. They played sports such as soccer, cricket, and rugby and taught the games to the indigenous population.Does Africa play rugby? ›
Rugby Africa is one of the six regional associations of World Rugby and assembles the African nations that practise 15s and 7s rugby. Today, Rugby Africa organizes the Men's and Women's Rugby Africa Cup and Sevens tournaments as well as the U20 Barthés Trophy.Did you know Africa facts? ›
- It is the second largest continent of the world. ...
- There are 54 countries in Africa. ...
- Africa has the world's largest desert – sort of! ...
- It is home to the world's longest river, The Nile. ...
- Most of the world's diamonds come from Africa. ...
- Africa makes 70% of the world's cocoa beans.
Confederation of African Tennis (CAT) (French: Confédération Africaine de tennis) is the continental governing body of tennis in Africa. It is the non-profit private organization based in Tunis and affiliated with International Tennis Federation.What sport did South Africa invent? ›
Speed Gun sports technology
In 1992, South African engineer Henri Johnson revolutionised cricket and tennis when he invented the world's first radar gun to measure the speed and angle of fast-flying balls.
What is South Africa famous for? ›
South Africa, the southernmost country on the African continent, renowned for its varied topography, great natural beauty, and cultural diversity, all of which have made the country a favoured destination for travelers since the legal ending of apartheid (Afrikaans: “apartness,” or racial separation) in 1994.Which sport pays the most in the world? ›
It is not surprising that basketball is the world's highest paid sport. As well as earning millions per year in salary, the NBA's best basketball players earn a huge amount of money from their various endorsements and sponsorships, more so than any other sport.What games do Zulu people play? ›
- Morabaraba. Also known as ncuva or morula, morabaraba is one of South Africa's most popular traditionalgames. ...
- Kgati. Also known as ntimo or ugqaphu, kgati is a skipping game played by two people. ...
- Diketo. ...
- Lintonga. ...
- Jukskei. ...
- Dibeke. ...
In Namibia, just like other countries, football is the most popular sport in the country. Football is very popular and they have their own league; Namibia Premier League. Their main governing body for football is known as Namibia Football Association.Whats the most popular sport in China? ›
1. Basketball. Basketball is currently the most popular sports discipline in China, and according to some analysts, has already become part of the Chinese culture. This is seen mainly in the outstanding popularity of the world's top league, the NBA, in the Middle Kingdom.Why is cricket not popular in South Africa? ›
The apartheid system made cricket and rugby white sports. Other races couldn't play it at national level matter how talented you were. Sports development were only in the white areas.Why is sport so important in South Africa? ›
Sports are deeply embedded in all social aspects of South Africa and go much deeper than just a sport that is watched for fun. Sports have been used to unite the people, entertain, and create opportunities for people throughout the country who would not have had these opportunities otherwise.What is the most popular sport in Nigeria? ›
Football is the most popular sport in Nigeria. The Nigeria national football team competes regularly for international titles and many Nigerian footballers compete in Europe, particularly in England.Is cricket popular in Africa? ›
In Africa, although not nearly as popular as football, cricket is enjoyed and played primarily in three countries, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.What is the most popular sport in Kenya? ›
Today, many sports are popular in Kenya, played both professionally and as recreational physical activities. The most popular sport in Kenya is cricket.
What are the most popular sports in South Africa? ›
The most popular sport in South Africa is football. Football is by far the most popular sport amongst black South Africans, and it recently grabbed the overall #1 spot in the country. In fact, the top three sports in the country are all extremely popular and the competition between them is fierce.What are the 5 most popular sports in Nigeria? ›
- 1 1. Football.
- 2 2. Dambe.
- 3 3. Basketball.
- 4 4. Track And Field.
- 5 5. Table Tennis.
- 6 6. Boxing.
- 7 Conclusion.
Nigeria is the most populous black nation on Earth. It is home to the second largest film industry on the globe whilst also being the fashion, technological and creative hub in Africa. Nigerians are known for their vibrant and friendly energy expressed through diverse creative expressions.Which sport is famous in Zimbabwe? ›
Sport in Zimbabwe has a long tradition and has produced many world recognized sports names and personalities. Football is the most popular sport, although rugby union, cricket, tennis, golf, and netball also have a following, traditionally among the middle class and the white minority.Is wrestling popular in Africa? ›
Traditional wrestling is popular in West Africa especially in Senegal, The Gambia, Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Togo where the sport is more organized with national tournaments, federations and arenas.What is the most famous sport? ›
American (NFL) Football
In the United States, the most popular sport is American football. Football is one of the most-watched sports in the U.S. and has about 390 million to 410 million fans worldwide, the majority of which are in the United States.
In Namibia, just like other countries, football is the most popular sport in the country. Football is very popular and they have their own league; Namibia Premier League. Their main governing body for football is known as Namibia Football Association.What is the national game of Ethiopia? ›
Aside from running, Ethiopians are also interested in football, known in Canada as soccer. In fact, the country's national football team, known as the Walyia Antelopes, won the African Cup of Nations in 1962. The team also qualified for the African Cup of Nations in 2012, as well as the FIFA World Cup in 2014.What sport is most popular in Asia? ›
Association football (also known as soccer) is the most popular sport in almost all Asian countries. Cricket is the second most popular sport in Asia, and is most popular in South Asia. Other popular sports in Asia include baseball, basketball, badminton and table tennis among others.What are the top 5 sports in South Africa? ›
Statistically, the most popular sports in South Africa are cricket, rugby and soccer. Other sports which enjoy a particularly good amount of following includes athletics, basketball, boxing, golf, netball, swimming, and tennis.
What is the No 1 sport in South Africa? ›
Association football has historically been particularly popular amongst persons of African descent and is South Africa's most popular sport.