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Most Popular Sports Across the African Continent

Feb 02, 2022 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

Sporting success in Africa may be traced back to ancient times, and the continent is now widely regarded as one of the best in the world. In the last several decades, Africa has been a major source of dynamic athletic talent that spans a wide range of sports. Several well-known African athletes have become household names throughout the world as a result of their success in a variety of sports. Because it brings people from all walks of life and backgrounds together, sports have widespread esteem throughout the continent, and the African economy continues to benefit from the athletic business even now.  Let’s examine which sports are the most popular.


Football is without a doubt Africa's most popular and preferred sport. Football is a thrilling sport that dates back to the 1800s when British, French, and Portuguese colonialists brought it to Africa. Football, unlike other sports, needs fewer resources, and as a result, it has spread across Africa. Football is popular among young people throughout the continent, particularly in rural places. Football talent in Africa often develops at the grassroots level, and many football players started their careers on local football fields. Because the sport is popular among Africans, the number of professional football clubs and competitions across the continent has steadily increased. Without a doubt, sponsorships from both the public and commercial sectors assist to increase football's appeal. Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon, and Nigeria are among the top African nations noted for their football prowess. South Africa made history in 2010 when it became the first African nation to host a World Cup, according to

Figure 1 - Football played in Africa. Source - Google


Cricket arrived in South Africa during the Napoleonic Wars when British soldiers occupied the country. The first documented match was between two service teams in Cape Town in 1808 for a reward of one thousand rix-dollars. According to, the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club was formed in 1843 and is South Africa's oldest cricket club. Cricket is becoming quite popular in Africa, particularly in Kenya, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. South Africa was barred from playing international cricket for 20 years due to apartheid policies and only began competing in international events when the prohibition was repealed. Omar Henry was the first South African Black player to play for the national team in a World Cup match against Sri Lanka in 1992. The Cricket World Cup was held in Africa in 2003, co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. AB de Villiers, Graeme Smith, Barry Richards, Hashim Amla, Allan Donald, and Dale Steyn are just a few of the most well-known cricketers who have come out of Africa.

Figure 2 - South African Cricket Players. Source - Google


In many African cultures, wrestling has been a part of their culture from the beginning of time, with wrestling contests being held regularly in village arenas. This custom has survived to the present day in several places, including in Senegal, Sudanese Nubian populations, and southern Egypt, where wrestling is particularly popular. Wrestlers who achieve success are well-respected and go on to become well-known superstars. Nubian wrestling has been practiced for more than 3,000 years and is considered to be one of the world's oldest combat arts. The sport of wrestling, which is preferred over soccer in Senegal, has also played an important part in the country's social integration and economic emancipation. This sport, apart from being a reflection of African culture and heritage, is also a superb example of the latter. As stated by, Senegalese wrestling is said to have been invented by the Serer people, who live in western-central Senegal as well as sections of Gambia and Mauritania, among other places. In the past, it was conducted as part of the harvest festival festivities, and it was used to choose who would be the local champion and strongman. The reward package included livestock, a large amount of grain, and other items. Senegalese wrestling is one of the most thrilling sports to watch for viewers because of the blend of spectacle, tradition, celebrity, and human power that goes into each match.

Figure 3 - Senegalese Wrestling. Source - Wikipedia


Rugby was not always popular in Africa, but in recent years the sport has gained traction in a number of African nations. South Africa popularized the sport, and other African nations like Kenya, Ghana, and Namibia quickly followed suit. South Africa's national team, the Springboks, won the Rugby World Cup on home soil in 1995, and Nelson Mandela, the country's president at the time, donned a No. 6 jersey for Francois Pienaar, a white South African. As the two publicly endorsed reducing racial tensions, it was a fantastic moment for South Africa's racial healing. In 2002, there were only six nations on the continent with significant rugby participation: Morocco, South Africa, Namibia, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, and Ivory Coast. In 2018, Rugby Africa, World Rugby's African organization, had 38 union members, including Nigeria, an increase of 84%, according to Medium. There are 600,000 registered rugby players in South Africa alone, with Kenya coming in second with 40,000. South Africa topped the World Rugby Rankings in 2021, followed by New Zealand, England, and Ireland in second, third, and fourth place, respectively.

Figure 4 - Rugby in Africa. Source- Google


Africa is an athletics superpower, particularly in field and track events, where the region has excelled in international tournaments. There is little question that sports have helped to put Africa on the map, and these success stories started a few decades ago. African athletes have shone and broken key world records in high-profile global sports events because to the continent's abundant potential. Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Algeria are among the African nations noted for their outstanding sports achievement. Athletes from Africa play a significant role in promoting Africa as a sports continent. Furthermore, as a consequence of the buzz and success of athletes, sports tourism has been steadily increasing. Athletics in Africa has a long history dating back to Reggie Walker, a South African sprinter who became the first African to win an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters in 1908. According to CNN, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics delivered lots of highlights and momentous events, many of which came from African competitors. Kenya, which ended 19th in the medal table, earned the most medals of any African nation, with ten in total, four of which were gold.

Figure 5 - Athletics in Africa. Source - Google

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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