South African sports: Which are the most popular sports in South Africa?

South African sports: Which are the most popular sports in South Africa?

Agnes Amondi
June 23, 2024 at 3:27 PM
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South Africans enjoy different sports, evoking passion and unity as fans gather to support their favourite teams. The country has produced world-famous athletes and participates in international events. South Africa has hosted competitions like the FIFA World Cup, the Rugby World Cup, and the Cricket World Cup. Keep reading to find out about the most popular South African sports.

Different South African Sports
Khanyisa Chawane in a netball game (L). Wayde Van Niekerk in the Men's 400m (M). Kevin Anderson against Nick Kyrgios (R). Photo: Jan Kruger, Casey Sykes, Shaun Botterill (modified by author)
Source: UGC

Table of Сontents:

The most popular sports in South Africa are widely practised and followed by millions because they are affordable and easy to access. Athletes in these disciplines are a source of national pride and receive international recognition.

10 famous South African sports

Creating a list of the most followed South African sports is exciting because it allows us to examine their origins, notable figures, and status. We relied on data from Statista and other publicly available information and compiled this list of popular South African sports and why they are famous.























10. Swimming

Chad le Clos
Chad le Clos of South Africa competes in the heats of the Men's 100m Butterfly in Doha 2024 World Aquatics Championships at Aspire Dome on February 16, 2024, in Doha, Qatar. Photo: Ian MacNicol.
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1900s
  • Notable swimmer: Chad le Clos
  • National federation: Swimming South Africa

Swimming is one of South Africa’s most popular sports. Its pleasant climate and the availability of beautiful beaches attract people to the sport. The country is home to world-renowned swimmers like Chad Le Clos, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and the young Pieter Coetze.

9. Basketball

Cape Town Tigers vs Rivers Hoopers
Will Perry #12 of the Rivers Hoopers Basketball Club handles the ball during the game against the Cape Town Tigers in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Nacer Talel/NBAE.
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1900s
  • Notable basketballer: Steve Nash
  • National federation: Basketball South Africa

South Africa hosted some 2024 Basketball Africa League (BAL) games for the first time. The Cape Town Tigers represented the country in the Kalahari Conference, which included Morocco, Angola, and Burundi. Hosting the basketball games should generate more interest in the sport and contribute to its development in the country.

8. Tennis

South Africa tennis player Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson of South Africa during a match against Jordan Thompson of Australia during the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Photo: Tim Nwachukwu.
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1800s
  • Notable tennis player: Kevin Anderson
  • National federation: Tennis South Africa

According to the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, tennis has 4.5 million fans in South Africa. Former players like Kevin Anderson and Wayne Ferreira sustained interest in the sport with their achievements in global events. Some high-profile tennis tournaments in the country include the ATP Challenger and the SA Open.

7. Golf

Dean Burmester
Dean Burmester of South Africa plays a shot during day four of the Investec South African Open Championship on December 03, 2023, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Luke Walker
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1900s
  • Notable golf player: Gary Player
  • National federation: GolfRSA

Some of the best golf courses are in South Africa, which has increased the sport's popularity. The country has produced top players like Trevor Immelman, Gary Player, Louis Oosthuizen, and other professionals who compete in top-level competitions like the South African (SA) Open, held under the auspices of the Sunshine Tour.

6. Hockey

South Africa vs Germany hockey teams
Team players of South Africa celebrate after scoring a goal during the FIH Hockey Men's Junior World Cup Malaysia 2023 against Germany. Photo: Wong Fok Loy/SOPA Images/LightRocket
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1900s
  • Notable hockey player: Pietie Coetzee
  • National federation: South African Hockey Association

Hockey has gained traction in South Africa. The country plays both indoor and field hockey. Internationally, the men have competed in four of the last five men’s Indoor World Cups and will represent the country in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

5. Netball

South African netball player
Khanyisa Chawane of South Africa’s SPAR Proteas in action during the Vitality Netball International Series match between England and South Africa in Nottingham, England. Photo: Jan Kruger.
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1900s
  • Notable netball player: Bongiwe Msomi
  • National federation: Netball South Africa

Netball is widespread, especially among women and girls. The Telkom Netball League is the country's premier competition. In 2023, South Africa became the first African nation to host the Netball World Cup and finished sixth position behind Uganda.

4. Athletics

Wayde Van Niekerk in a competition
Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa in the men's 400m round 1 during day two of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 2023 at National Athletics Centre. Photo: Sam Mellish
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1800s
  • Notable athlete: Caster Semenya
  • National federation: Athletics South Africa

South Africa has a long and successful history in athletics. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Wayde van Niekerk broke the 400m world record, while Caster Semenya dominated the 400m and 800m. The country's commitment to nurturing athletic talent by exposing them to a competitive environment propels this success.

3. Cricket

A Cricketer receiving a ball
Meike de Ridder of South Africa bats during game two of the ODI series between India and South Africa at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on June 19, 2024, in Bengaluru, India. Photo: Abhishek Chinnappa
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1800s
  • Notable player: AB de Villiers
  • National federation: Cricket South Africa

Cricket commands a huge following in South Africa. The South African cricket team, the Proteas, is the best in Africa. In the latest International Cricket Council rankings, the country ranks fourth in test cricket, third in One-Day International (ODI) cricket, and fifth in T20 Cricket.

The Proteas first qualified for the Cricket World Cup in 1992, finishing as semifinalists. They reached that position in 1999 and 2011.

2. Rugby

Springboks vs Australia
Litelihle Bester of South Africa gestures during The Rugby Championship U20 Round 2 match between Australia and South Africa at Sunshine Coast Stadium, Australia. Photo: Albert Perez
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of introduction: 1800s
  • Notable player: Siya Kolisi
  • National federation: South Africa Rugby Union

South Africans live and breathe rugby. The national team, the Springboks, has provided the nation with unforgettable memories. In 2023, they won the Rugby World Cup for the fourth time. The presence of players like Siya Kolisi has heightened its popularity, as black people feel included and represented.

1. Football

South African vs DR Congo
South Africa's player Aubrey Maphosa Modiba (L) is fighting for the ball during the 3rd Place African Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 football match against DR Congo in Ivory Coast. Photo: APP/NurPhoto.
Source: Getty Images
  • Year of Introduction: 1860s
  • Notable player: Benny McCarthy
  • National federation: South African Football Association

Football keeps South Africans' pulse beating. The Premier Soccer League (PSL) is the top-flight football competition. The Soweto derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates is one of the biggest matches in the league. Hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup further boosted the image of South African football.

Frequently asked questions

South Africans are one of the best sporting fans. However, they cannot use the vuvuzela in international matches following its ban after the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

What sports are called the big three in South Africa?

Cricket, rugby and football are the most popular sports in South Africa, hence referred to as the big three.

What is the national game of South Africa?

Although cricket and football have a significant following, rugby union is considered the national sport of South Africa.

What sports were played in South Africa during apartheid?

During the apartheid regime, whites dominated cricket and rugby. The sports authorities segregated players based on race and allowed token black players to join white teams.

Final word

South African sports have boosted the country's international reputation and created opportunities for many to showcase their talents. From traditional favourites like football, cricket, and rugby to swimming and golf, they are a testament to South Africa's strength and diversity.

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Agnes Amondi photo
Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi is a journalist and a versatile sports content writer with 6 years of experience. She wrote for several publications;, Her Football Hub, Tisini, and Spotcovery
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