The South African sports environment is similar to many other countries. While the professional sports environment faced many challenges in the past, sports are currently thriving in the nation.
Children are introduced to many sports from an early age, and there are professional leagues for many different sports. Football, rugby, and cricket have many league tiers from professional to amateur and university clubs.
Here’s an overview of the most popular sports in South Africa. These aren’t the only sports played in the country, but these are the sports played and followed by the most South Africans. And like most countries, clubs develop strong fan bases of loyal followers.
It doesn’t matter whether you call it soccer or football; the game is the most popular sport in the world. And it’s no different in South Africa.
Soccer or football isn’t to be confused with the version of football played in America and a few other countries. Football in South Africa is always the game called soccer, using a soccer ball.
Here are the top soccer/football leagues in South Africa. Many amateur and university clubs also play below the listed levels.
- The South African Premier Division is the number one soccer/football division, with 16 teams.
- The National First Division is the second place division, and also has 16 teams.
- SAFA Second Division is the third place division in South Africa and has 144 football clubs in 16 team leagues.
- SAB Regional League is the fourth place league. It has 832 football clubs across 52 leagues.
If any sport rivals the popularity of football in South Africa, it’s rugby.
The South African Rugby Union oversees a collection of 14 provincial unions. Every provincial union has a top, or professional, rugby team, as well as lower-level teams.
Each of the 14 provincial rugby teams competes each season for the Rugby Challenge and the Currie Cup. The Rugby Challenge used to be called the Vodacom Cup if you don’t recognize the newer name.
Just to be clear, the main form of rugby played in South Africa is rugby union, not rugby league. The easy way to tell if a match is rugby union or rugby league is each team uses 15 players in rugby union and only 13 in rugby league.
Cricket is one of two common sports in the world using a bat and ball mechanic. The other sport using the bat and ball mechanic is baseball. But cricket is far more popular than baseball in South Africa.
Each cricket team fields 11 players and games are played on a field with a 20-meter pitch. The pitch has a wicket on each end.
Cricket was brought to South Africa by the British in the early 1800s. But cricket is one of the most popular sports in South Africa, and boys and girls often learn how to play starting at a young age.
The equipment required for cricket isn’t cheap; so many schools don’t have the funds to offer the sport. But the game is so popular in South Africa that the ruling body over the sport, the CSA, provides equipment for many regional programs and district programs.
CSA stands for Cricket South Africa, which is the governing body over all organized cricket play in the country.
Golf is a popular leisure sport in South Africa, as well as a professional sport. It’s not as popular as the sports listed above, but golf is as popular in the country as in many other countries.
In addition to professional golf events like PGA events and PGA pro-am events, there are also amateur golf leagues in South Africa.
Three tournaments form a South African Triple Crown for professional golf. The tournaments are the South African Masters, the South African Open, and the South African PGA Championship. The only three golfers to win all three Triple Crown events in the same season are Ernie Els, Gary Player, and Boggy Locke.
Here’s a list of some of the top golf courses in South Africa:
- Durban Country Club
- Fancourt Links
- St Francis Links
- Royal Johannesburg and Kensington East
Tennis isn’t as popular in South Africa as soccer, rugby, and cricket, but it has a loyal following and a solid player base.
The Tennis South Africa, or TSA, governs the game professionally in the country. And they’re affiliated with the International Tennis Federation or ITF.
South Africa fields a Fed Cup tennis team, a Davis Cup tens team, and is represented at the Hopman Cup. Both men and women compete in tennis in the country.
The South African team won the Davis Cup in 1974. They won the Fed Cup in 1972 and finished second in 1973. South Africa won the Hopman Cup in 2000 and finished second in 1997.
While Formula 1, or as it’s also known, F1, doesn’t currently race in South Africa, it’s still one of the most popular sports. Of course, you can still follow your favourite drivers in all the F1 races held in other parts of the world.
The South African Grand Prix, last run in 1993, was the last F1 race. But F1 may be coming back to South Africa. Many F1 fans hope the news is true about the South African Grand Prix returning to Kyalami soon.
Over 1,000 Grand Prix races have been run since they started in 1950. The main thing that sets Formula 1 apart from most other racing sports is the use of open-wheel cars. The ruling body for Formula 1 is the FIA.