For a continent that is as huge and as diverse as Africa, there is no doubt that it could produce world-class athletes in every field of sports. For instance, Africans have been a powerhouse for Athletics for several decades now, dominating championships one after another.
Let’s take a look at the most popular sports in Africa that have given birth to world-famous tournaments that draws massive crowds the world over and to many respected African sports heroes that put the continent in the sporting map of the world.
Below are the 8 most popular sports in Africa:
If you have closely watched the recently-concluded FIFA World Cup in Russia, it is a no-brainer that there are several footballers of African origin who played on the top of their games. Their huge presence is a testament to Africa’s love for the popular sport.
Like Saudi Arabia, it is not uncommon to find youngsters playing football in every vacant lot available. So it should not come as a surprise, too, that the most famous of African football players began their careers in those humble neighborhoods. The continent’s love of Football emanated back in the 1800s when the European colonialists, namely the British, Portuguese and French introduced the sport.
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. Undoubtedly, sponsorships from both government and private sectors help boost the football’s popularity.
There are several players selected from various African teams playing in the first division league in the West, including South America. Besides, several renowned football clubs are also tapping migrants or descendants of migrants of African origin who have incredible soccer skills, the most notable of which is the French Football Team who won the 2018 World Cup.
Based on the latest FIFA world rankings, top African countries known for its football competence are Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon, and Nigeria.
Rugby is a one sport whose popularity in Africa is phenomenal. Thanks to South Africa where it is said to have played a major role of Rugby’s fame especially in the post-apartheid period. With its 600,000 registered players, South Africa is indeed the foremost proponent of Africa’s Rugby. No wonder it is ranked 5th on a global scale by World Rugby Rankings.
Only a handful of countries excel in this sport, though. Among them are Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana.
A history was made when the then President Nelson Mandela wore a no. 6 Jersey shirt that belonged to a white South African Player, Francois Pienaar. The two famous personalities hugged each other after the Springboks, South Africa’s National Team, won the 1995 Rugby World Cup held in the country.
Other African countries that have excelled in this sport include Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana. The popularity of the Rugby in Kenya is being boosted by the annual International Safari Sevens Tournament. Besides, Kenya, who has 40,000 registered Rugby players, including 3,000 women, won the IRB Sevens World Series 2016 held in the posh Emirate of Dubai.
Cycling is fast-becoming a popular sport in Africa, especially in South Africa which is known for its gorgeous cycling terrain. In fact, the city of Cape Town is a home to The Cape Town Cycle Tour which is the largest indepedently-timed race, attracting a huge number of cyclists around the world.
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.
One of the many Italian influences in Eritrea is cycling. The colonizer introduced bicycles way back in 1898 and cycling has since remained a popular sport. Did you know that Eritreans were the first ever Africans to take part in the world-famous Tour de France?
Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus put Eritrea in the cycling world map when they participated in the tournament, first time.
Women’s cycling is also becoming popular in Eritrea’s neighbor, Ethiopia. Likewise, Algeria and Kenya are also seriously considering cycling as a sport.
When it comes to global competitiveness in Athletics, the first thing that comes to one’s mind is Africa or Africans. With their incredible display of endurance, strength, and speed, African sportsmen in the field of Athletics have it all- be it men or women. Kenyans, Ethiopians, South Africans, and Algerians dominated the world stage, breaking records and consequently amassing every major award.
It is heartwarming to know that because of their excellence in this arena, sports tourism is becoming a valuable source of pride and, of course, revenues.
Reggie Walker started the winning streak when he won gold in the Olympic 100 meter dash in 1908, the first for an African. Since then, the world has been in awe as more and more talented Africans conquer major international championships and sporting events.
Kenya’s Kipchoge Keino was a 1968 gold medalist in 1,500-meter event. Ethiopians Abebe Bikila and Haile Gebrselassie were long distance track champions. Also, Catherine Ndereba of Kenya won the World Marathon twice and her compatriot Vivian Cheruiyot has won four Olympic gold medals. Other women powerhouse in Athletics includes Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia and Maria Mutola of Mozambique.
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.
Did you know that only white South Africans were allowed to play Cricket during the Apartheid era? This is the reason why the bi-racial country was banned to play in international matches for more than 20 years.
Fast forward in 1992, Omar Henry, a black South African was the first to play for the national team in the World Cup. That was after the ugly regime ended.
The popularity of the sport in the continent was boosted when it hosted the Cricket World Cup. It was co-hosted by three other countries where Cricket is hugely popular- Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
More and more countries are joining the bandwagon which includes Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Zambia whose participation in international matches is yielding commendable results.
Wrestling is one of the oldest sports in the continent. Its origin dates back to hundreds, even thousands of years, especially in Senegal, Sudan Nubian, and Southern Egypt.
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. The sport’s popularity in this West African country is quite huge that wrestling matches are now being watched in the whole of Africa.
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.
Rallying is, by far, one of the most popular and favorite sports in Africa. The several tournaments that are being held in many countries attract rally drivers from around the world. Of course, the rugged, off-road landscape in most of these countries in Africa is a haven for rally enthusiasts.
The KCB Safari Rally is the most famous in the continent. Sponsored by the Kenya Commercial Bank, from here it took the name, it was launched in 1953 and still draws massive crowd from Rally fans across the globe.
Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe also stage Rally Championships, including Darak and Cote de Ivoire.
Uganda’s love of the sport, through its massively successful annual Pearl of Africa Rally, has earned the distinction as the number one country in the continent earning 2754 points based on FIA statistics. FIA is the world motorsports body. Uganda is followed by Rwanda with 2124 points and Zimbabwe with 1701 points, respectively.
The popular sports was introduced in the continent in the 1960s. From the time onwards, basketball has become an integral part in most African countries as evidenced by its inclusion in most school competitions and, like football, it has become a favorite sports pastime in the neighborhoods. It comes as no surprise for all schools, public or private, to put up training facilities for basketball players who are NBA wannabes.
And why not? There has been great NBA stars who were the sons of Africa, aside from the famous African-Americans, of course. Nigerian-born Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon played for the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets. Likewise, Dukembe Mutombo, a Congolese, made his presence felt by playing in the world-renowned NBA for 18 seasons!
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.