Sports is of significant importance in Africa, as it is in anywhere else in the world. Sports in Africa has a long and illustrious history. It has embedded in the lives and culture of Africans, no matter their ethnic background, class, or religious affiliation.
Sports has positively influenced not only culturally and socially for Africa, but economically as well. One of the most significant highlights in African sports history is the announcement of South Africa as the host country of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on May 15, 2004. Not only did it turn a bright page for Africa’s global football aspirations, but it also put Africa on the international sports map. Today, the continent enjoys equal opportunities to host high-profile international sporting events. For a continent that is as vast and diverse as Africa, it is little wonder that produces notable world-class athletes from several different disciplines.
Some African countries are globally renowned for their excellence of certain types of sport. For example, Kenya and Ethiopia are very dominant at marathons and long-distance running, while South Africa is a global player when it comes to rugby and cricket. A lot of NBA players and superstars come from Africa, too. On the other hand, a number of national and traditional sports have started to gain traction and popularity. Some of them include Dambe boxing in Nigeria, Senegalese wrestling, Nguni or stick fighting in South Africa, donkey racing in Kenya and Ta Kurt Om El Mahag in Libya, which somewhat resembles baseball.
The most popular sports in Africa
While Africa plays different types of sports, these are the most ones on the continent:
Football (or soccer) remains the most dominant and most favorite sport in Africa. Football arrived in Africa in the 1800s when British, French, and Portuguese colonialists introduced the game to the continent.
Compared to other sports, the mass appeal of football to Africans lies in the fact that it requires minimal resources and equipment. In every corner you look – from the cities to the rural communities – you are likely to find a group of youngsters enjoying playing football.
One of the highlights in African football history is the hosting of South Africa in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, becoming the first African nation to do so.
More than 80% of Africa’s World Cup players participate in European football teams.
Not only football is used to promote the greatness of African athletes, but it has also been used for political effect. Africa, as a bloc, convinced FIFA to suspend South Africa in 1961 because of the country’s apartheid policies. FIFA is football’s world governing body, and its ban on South Africa continued for over three decades.
Cricket is also a popular sport in Africa, particularly in South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. However, so far only Zimbabwe and South Africa are two of the African nations that are sanctioned by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to play test cricket.
If you’re asking what a “test cricket is,” it is a type of cricket with the longest match duration, and is considered the game’s highest standard which ultimately tests a player’s ability and endurance. In test cricket, the two teams of 11 players each play a four-innings match that may go for days (usually five days, but some matches could go longer than that!).
Only a few decades ago, only white people were allowed to play cricket in South Africa due to its apartheid policies. As a result, South Africa was banned from participating in international cricket tournaments for over two decades. After the apartheid regime was lifted, South Africa was allowed to play international cricket. In their 1992 Cricket World Cup match versus Sri Lanka, Omar Henry became the first-ever black cricket player in history to play for the national team. The 2003 Cricket World Cup was hosted by three African countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Cricket is so popular in South Africa that the country even has a women’s national cricket team. It has been consistently placing high on the women’s world cricket rankings!
Rugby’s popularity has increased quickly and steadily, particularly in recent years when the sport has gained a strong foothold, especially in South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana. Like many other popular sports in Africa, rugby was also introduced by colonialists. However, its popularity became more widespread, thanks to South Africa where the sport played a vital role in ushering in the country’s post-apartheid era.
Rugby is so popular in South Africa that it currently has over 600,000 registered rugby players!
The widespread popularity of rugby has led to the formation of the Confederation of African Rugby. It currently has 37 members and operates on several different tournaments across Africa. In 2000, the annual rugby union, Africa Cup, took place for the first time. In Kenya, the rugby industry has grown exponentially that it currently enjoys hosting the annual Safari Sevens Tournament, which attracts participants from all over the world.
Since its introduction to the continent during the 1960s, basketball’s popularity has grown steadily. You can see many youngsters playing basketball at the nearest neighborhood for fun, and players are clad in their sweatshirts and jerseys with names of their favorite NBA players.
Basketball is also the dominant sport for several school competitions. Both public and private schools offer basketball “clinics,” with facilities and professional training that allow young basketball aspirants to hone their skills.
The number of professional basketball teams has grown steadily in recent years, as well as the number of basketball clinics that seek to improve the quality of the game. Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda are some of the countries where basketball is very popular.
Many African basketball players have become big names in the international scene, especially as NBA players and superstars – notably Hakeem Olajuwon from Nigeria and Dikembe Mutombo from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There is little doubt that Africa is a powerhouse when it comes to athletics, most especially track and field and distance running. African athletes are known to shine and break major world records at several high-profile international sporting events. No doubt, the success of these athletes has helped in putting Africa in the global sporting map.
Among the world-renowned African male running champions include Kipchoge Keino (Kenya), Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia), Said Aouita (Morocco), Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco), Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), Paul Tergat (Kenya), Henry Rono (Kenya), Noureddine Morceli (Algeria), Geoffrey Mutai (Kenya) and Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich (Kenya).
Women who have made big names in world athletics include Catherine Ndereba (Kenya), Tinuresh Dibaba (Ethiopia), Maria Mutola (Mozambique), and four-time Olympic champion Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya).