Africa has a rich sports history, and it has earned global recognition for the excellence achieved in various sports. Sports and the men and women of sports in Africa are greatly revered for how they have unified the people of the continent, cutting across cultural and social backgrounds.
Africa now has many sporting personalities who have earned international fame and recognition and helped establish the profile of the continent as a sporting powerhouse. Here are the 8 most popular sports in Africa.
The players of African origin at the last FIFA World Cup in Russia must have caught your eye. Football was brought to the continent by European colonialists in the 1800s. Who can forget the sudden bursts of speed Cameroon’s Roger Mila or the amazing artistry with the ball by Senegal’s El Hadji Diouf? There are more than a hundred players in the world’s top leagues. Egypt is the top-ranking African team at number 28.
It was a historical moment when in 1995, the iconic Nelson Mandela appeared in a number 6 jersey shirt worn by the white South African rugby player Francois Pienaar, and the two embraced each other, boosting rugby. South Africa lifted the World Cup marking a new chapter in its post-apartheid history. The other African teams to have excelled in Rugby are Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana. Today, South Africa has over 600,000 registered players, while Kenya has 40,000.
South Africa’s Cape Town hosts the world’s largest independently timed race, a top draw among world cyclists. There are 25,600 registered cyclists in the city, a testimony to how popular the sport is. Nick Minar, a South African, won the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup thrice. Cycling was made popular in Eritrea by the colonizers in 1898 & Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus were the Tour de France’s first-ever African participants.
Africans have had a long history of success in athletics. Things started with the South African Reggie Walker winning the 100-meter dash in 1908. Kipchoge Keino of Kenya bagged the 1500-meter gold in the 1968 Olympics. Ethiopians Haile Gebrselassie and Abebe Bikila, long-distance runners, are icons of the sport. Kenya is the top-ranking African nation with as many as 128 medals as per IAAF. Vivian Cheruiyot, the winner of four Olympic Gold medals, further popularized the sport.
It was on November 10, 1991, that South Africa returned to international cricket with a match against India at the iconic Eden Gardens. The nation hosted the Cricket World Cup in 2019, giving the sport a further boost in the continent. Some great players from Africa to have graced the fields of cricket are Kepler Wessels, Andy Flower, and Alan Donald. Kenya and Zimbabwe are the two other prominent African cricket-playing nations.
Wrestling is another popular sport in Africa with a history dating back thousands of years. The sport is a favorite in Senegal, which has greatly boosted the nation’s community assimilation uniting people. Sudan and Egypt are other nations where the sport is very popular. Today a multi-million-dollar sport, annual sponsorships run to $2 million per year, with a national wrestler earning $200,000 per game.
With several tournaments being held in the continent, Africa draws rally drivers from around the world. The most famous rally in the continent is the KCB Safari Rally sponsored by the Kenya Commercial Bank. It was launched in 1953 and drew global fans. Rallies are held by Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe as well. Another iconic rally was the Dakar Rally which has been shifted to other venues due to security issues.
Basketball came to Africa in the 1960s. Of course, there have been the legendary African American players while there have been Africa’s players like Nigeria’s Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon, who played for the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets. Congo’s Dikembe Mutombo played in the NBA for 18 years.
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Africa is a major sporting power, and African players are household names today. Africa’s 8 most popular sports see a prominent presence of African players. These sports have a major fan following in Africa and are big business here. Major tournaments of all the sports mentioned are held in Africa, and the continent looks set to dominate sports in the days ahead.