The “Big Three” Sports That South Africans Support Most

South Africa is a rainbow nation, but let’s take that further – South Africa is a sports-mad rainbow nation!

Sports have always held an exceptional place in the hearts of South Africa’s diverse population. It doesn’t matter whether you’re from the bustling urban centre of Johannesburg or the wide-open spaces of the rural Karoo, if you’re South African you’ll likely love sport or know plenty of people who do. 

South Africans unite in their love of sport – whether competing on the playing fields, placing bets, or watching from the stands, the pubs, or in front of the television. We’re going to reveal the most popular sports in South Africa; the Big Three that captivate the nation and embody its spirit of unity and competition more than any others.

1. Cricket

Cricket was introduced to South Africa during the colonial era, with South Africa being the third team to play test cricket way back in 1888/89. Through the ages, it has evolved into one of South Africa’s most beloved and supported sports. The South African national cricket team, the Proteas, has inspired young cricketers from all over the country to follow their dreams, honing their skills in the streets if need be. 

With the introduction of one-day cricket in the 70s and day/night matches with coloured uniforms and white balls shortly thereafter, cricket’s popularity soured further. By the time T20 cricket arrived, South Africa’s population was already sold! The new SA20 domestic Cricket Tournament has encouraged a brand new kind of cricket follower, as online wagering on matches through sports betting apps in South Africa enhances cricket’s excitement even further, providing new ways to experience the thrill of winning. 

2. Soccer

Soccer, as it’s known in South Africa, or football, holds an allure for most South Africans going back through history. The sport’s grassroots appeal is visible in townships, where many of the country’s past, present and future stars have played on improvised pitches or in the streets to the sounds of excited shouting interspersed with bouts of laughter. 

South Africa’s greats, like Jomo Sono, Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, and Lucas Radebe, went from aspiring young footballers playing for local clubs like Orlando Pirates or Kaizer Chiefs to hardened and dedicated professionals abroad, representing a plethora of top clubs. These players were the heroes of many who’ve since started on the same path, drawing massive crowds and fervent supporters to local PSL matches. Like most other parts of the world, soccer betting is popular here, with fans predicting match and league winners, or supporting their favourite players with prop bets, too.

3. Rugby

Before the end of South Africa’s Apartheid era, rugby union was a “white man’s sport”. The sport carried a negative stigma among black South Africans, brought about by its predominantly Afrikaans heritage and governing body in the country. All this changed when President Nelson Mandela embraced the Springbok symbol and wore the jersey in 1995 as South Africa won the Rugby World Cup on home soil. 

Rugby now stands tall as South Africa’s national sport with The Springboks, South Africa’s national rugby team, evoking passion and pride in all its citizens. Further historic World Cup victories by more racially inclusive Springbok squads in 2007, 2019 and 2023 have and still do, inspire new players and supporters to emulate their heroes – captains Francois Pienaar, John Smit and Siya Kolisi – among them.

Final Thoughts

It’s hardly surprising that team sports make up the Big Three most popular sporting types in South Africa. Since the adoption of democracy in the country, South Africa’s message to the world has been to forget past differences and work together towards a better tomorrow. Soccer, rugby and cricket in South Africa are all perfect examples of how teamwork can improve circumstances and result in better outcomes for those involved.

While more individual sports like golf, athletics, tennis and swimming all remain popular in the country, the feelings of togetherness that fans and players draw from supporting and representing their teams will always be more inspirational than doing it alone.

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