Sport is an integral part of the African culture. The Africans believe that sports bring them together, irrespective of their culture and social affiliation. There is no doubt that it could produce world-class athletes in every field of sports. African players can be found in almost every type of sport played today, and they are not backing out anytime soon.
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. Let's take a look at the most popular sports in Africa.
8 Most Popular Sports in Africa
From North to South, East to West Africa, football is, no doubt, Africa's most popular and favorite sport. Its origins can be traced back to the 1800s. It is prevalent to find youngsters playing football in any vacant lot in rural areas and even urban towns. You will be surprised that some of the most famous professional footballers began their careers in those humble playgrounds.
Because the sport is well-loved by Africans, there has been a steady rise in the number of professional football clubs and leagues across the continent. Notably is the African Cup of Nation, Nigeria Professional Football League, ABSA Premier Soccer League-South Africa, and Algerian Ligue Professionnelle, among others. Undoubtedly, sponsorships from both government and private sectors help boost football's popularity.
A few remarkable Africans in the world of football include Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto'o, and many other renowned footballers that are making waves globally.
Rugby is popular in Namibia and South Africa. It is one of South Africa's major sports, alongside football and cricket. The Confederation of African Rugby is the governing body of rugby union within Africa. Currently it has 37 members. It runs various rugby tournaments within Africa, like CAR Super 16 and Africa Cup. The African Leopards is a representative team from Africa which aims to promote rugby throughout the continent.
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 the 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 popularity of cycling in South Africa is evident by its thousands of registered members totaling to over 25,600. Greg Minaar, who has won UCI Mountain Bike World Cup three times, is a native of South Africa.
Women's cycling is also becoming popular in Eritrea's neighbor, Ethiopia. Likewise, Algeria and Kenya are also seriously considering cycling as a sport.
In Africa, cricket is quite popular, particularly in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. It is also popular in Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, and Uganda. Apartheid policy, on the other hand, prevented South Africa from playing international cricket for 20 years. South Africa began competing in international events when the ban placed on them was reverted.
The 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup co-hosted between Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa was the first cricket tournament to be hosted in Africa. This tournament has also helped to increase the popularity of the sport throughout the continent.
Some of the renowned African cricketers include AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Barry Richards, Hashim Amla, Allan Donald, and Dale Steyn, among others.
Since time immemorial, wrestling has also been a part of many African cultures where wrestling matches were common in village areas. It is not only a sport but a great reflection of African society and tradition. This practice has continued to this day in many communities, particularly in Senegal, Sudan Nubian communities, and Southern Egypt where wrestling is very common. Good wrestlers are well-respected and become prominent athletes.
In Senegal, wrestling is the most popular sport. Football only comes second. Interestingly, Wrestling has been a major catalyst in the country’s social assimilation and economic progress, apart from being a perfect symbol of the culture and tradition of Africa. In addition, senegal is one of West Africa's most successful and vibrant national sports hubs, and for that reason, Senegalese wrestling is now being watched across borders.
Once a sport among village dwellers just to pass the time during the dry season, wrestling is now becoming a multi-million dollar sports. Based on statistics, the up and coming sport receives up to $2 million in sponsorships annually. A national player could now earn as much as $200,000 per match. This amount is so lucrative that many impoverished African youths are being attracted to wrestling which, they believe, could just be the best way to improve the quality of their lives.
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.
Among the African countries, Kenya holds the distinction of being on the top in the Athletics field, based on a report by IAAF World Championships Athletics, with 128 medals. Ethiopia lags behind with only 72 medals. South Africa ranks third with 21 medals. African athletes boast excellent speed, strength, and stamina, which lets them dominate the sport on the world stage.
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.
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.
Basketball is one of Africa's fastest-growing sports, 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, especially in high school basketball.
In recent times, the number of professional teams has increased with many basketball clinics organized to improve the quality of basketball. Former NBA stars Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo are some of the most remarkable basketball players of African origin.
Basketball is also popular in other countries such as Tunisia, Angola, Ghana, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, and Cameroon but Nigeria is still on top of the FIBA Men's Basketball Rankings list in the continent. Basketball is one of the Top 6 Sports that give you the best workout and also one of the best indoor sports you can play.
These are the top 8 most popular sports in Africa. Other popular sports include boxing, golf, netball, swimming, surfing, and tennis. The benefits of exercise are numerous. Apart from helping with the development of the body's mental and physical health, sports also instill discipline, teamwork, confidence, and personality.