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Understanding Sports in South Africa | It's a Culture Thing

By · September 13, 2023
Understanding Sports in South Africa | It's a Culture Thing

Ah, sports in South Africa! It's not just a pastime; it's practically a way of life. We eat, sleep, and breathe sports here, and I'm not just talking about rugby and cricket. No, no, we've got a whole buffet of sports that'll make your head spin faster than a Proteas bowler on a bouncy pitch.

In this guide, we'll walk you through South Africa's favourite sports, discuss their rich history and promotion of sports in the country (the reason why we're so dang good!). 

South African Rugby - A Nation's Pride

First up, let's talk rugby. If South Africa were a religion, rugby would be its holy scripture. It's like the entire nation collectively holds its breath whenever the Springboks step onto the field. You'd think we were all doing yoga with how much deep breathing we do during a match. And don't even get me started on the Bokke's iconic jersey – that green and gold masterpiece. It's like our national flag, but with more muscle.

South African Rugby Team Springbokke 2023Credit: Photo taken by David Ellington at the Orange Vélodrome in France.

Side Note: We all love the bokke, but had to giggle when someone compared their World Cup Game attire to Checkers Sixty60's driver uniforms 🤣👇

South Africa's World Cup Jersey Checkers Sixty60

History of Rugby in South Africa

The history of rugby in South Africa reads like a gripping saga filled with triumphs, trials, and a fair bit of controversy. It all began when rugby was introduced to the country in the late 19th century by British soldiers and settlers.

The sport quickly gained popularity, and the South African Rugby Board (now known as SA Rugby) was established in 1889, making it one of the oldest rugby governing bodies in the world. In 1891, the very first official rugby game was played by the national team in Port Elizabeth. 

One of the defining moments in South African rugby history came in 1906 when the Springboks embarked on their first overseas tour to the British Isles. They returned home victorious, sparking an enduring love affair between the nation and its rugby team.

However, it's impossible to talk about rugby in South Africa without acknowledging the dark era of apartheid, which severely affected the sport. For decades, racially segregated teams and exclusionary policies tarnished South African rugby's reputation on the international stage.

The turning point came in the early 1990s when apartheid began to crumble, and Nelson Mandela, a staunch rugby supporter, used the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a unifying force for the nation. The iconic image of Mandela handing the Webb Ellis Cup to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar remains a symbol of reconciliation and hope.

Since then, South African rugby has flourished, producing world-class players and teams that have claimed multiple Rugby World Cup titles. Today, rugby is deeply embedded in the fabric of South African society, transcending race, culture, and language to unite a diverse nation around a common passion.

High School Rugby - Where it all starts

High school rugby in South Africa is where the seeds of passion for the sport are sown and nurtured, although it often begins even earlier, in primary school playgrounds and dusty fields. From the moment kids can run and hold a rugby ball, they're thrown into the world of scrums, tackles, and try-scoring dreams.

In South Africa, rugby isn't just a sport; it's a rite of passage. It's the way we teach our young ones about teamwork, discipline, and the joy of competition. Even before high school, kids are exposed to the basics of the game, learning how to pass, tackle, and kick under the watchful eye of enthusiastic coaches and proud parents.

School Rugby South Africa

But it's in high school that rugby truly takes center stage. Schools across the country field teams that are more than just athletes; they're representatives of their institutions, their communities, and their provinces. The rivalries between schools are legendary, with matches drawing crowds that rival professional games.

If you've ever wondered why the Springboks are as good as they are - it's because they could drop-kick a goal long before they could hold a pencil!

Check out our post on the best Schools in SA to see who's topping the sporting charts!

Next - Cricket (We don't like Cricket -we LOVE it!)

But wait, there's more! Cricket is another sport that's got us hooked. The sound of leather on willow is like music to our ears. When we're not watching the Proteas, we're out in the backyard or in the street with the kids, attempting to imitate our cricketing heroes. Of course, we've all got our favourite cricketers – some of us even have secret shrines dedicated to AB de Villiers.

Wanderers Stadium Cricket South AfricaCredit: Photo taken by Tanvir Akhtar at the Wanderers Stadium in Sandton.

History of Cricket in South Africa

The history of cricket in South Africa is a tale of triumph over adversity, reflecting the nation's resilience and love for the sport. Here's a brief journey through the cricketing annals of the Rainbow Nation:

Early Beginnings (19th Century): Cricket made its way to South Africa during the 19th century, again introduced by British colonialists and soldiers. The first recorded cricket match in the country took place in 1808, and soon after, cricket clubs began to sprout, primarily in the Western Cape.

The Formation of the South African Cricket Union (1890): In 1890, the South African Cricket Union (now known as Cricket South Africa) was established, laying the foundation for organized cricket in the country. South Africa played its first international cricket match in 1889 against an English touring team. Unfortunately, they lost, but that opened the door to more international tours.

Isolation and Apartheid (20th Century): South African cricket faced a tumultuous period during the 20th century due to apartheid policies. The country was isolated from international cricket from 1970 to 1991, as most nations refused to play against a racially segregated South African team.

Return to International Cricket (1991): The end of apartheid marked a turning point in South African cricket. In 1991, South Africa was readmitted to international cricket, and they played their first One Day International (ODI) against India. Later, in 1992, they made their Cricket World Cup debut and reached the semi-finals.

The Rise to Glory (1990s-2000s): South Africa's re-entry into international cricket saw them rise as a cricketing force. Players like Hansie Cronje, Allan Donald, and Jacques Kallis became household names, and the team consistently ranked among the top sides in both Tests and ODIs.

Proteas and International Success: The South African national cricket team, known as the Proteas, has achieved remarkable success in various formats of the game. They've consistently been a formidable side in Test cricket and have produced world-class players like AB de Villiers, Dale Steyn, and Hashim Amla.

Historical Moments: South Africa has produced several memorable cricket moments, including hosting and winning the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2003, and achieving the world's highest successful run chase in a Test match against Australia in 2006.

Transformation and Inclusivity: Post-apartheid, South African cricket has made significant efforts towards transformation and inclusivity, striving for greater diversity in both its player base and administration.

Today, cricket in South Africa continues to captivate the nation's imagination, serving as a source of pride, unity, and inspiration. It represents not only a sporting journey but also a reflection of the nation's evolution and commitment to equality and diversity. The legacy of South African cricket is a testament to the resilience and indomitable spirit of the people who have embraced it as a symbol of their national identity.

Start them young - from Primary School to University.

Children in South Africa learn cricket at school through organized cricket programs, physical education classes, and extracurricular activities. Many schools have dedicated cricket teams and coaches who provide basic training and opportunities for young players to participate in inter-school competitions. These programs are the foundation for nurturing cricketing talent, fostering a love for the sport, and identifying potential future stars.

Read more about the Top Universities in the country.

Laduma!! Nothing beats our love for soccer

Now, let's not forget about soccer. While SA may not have the same international weight as our rugby or cricket, it's gaining ground faster than a cheetah chasing its prey. The energy in the stadiums during a Kaizer Chiefs vs. Orlando Pirates match is electric enough to power a small town for a week (if only... we would solve the loadshedding crisis!). And the vuvuzelas? Well, they're like our version of a national anthem – loud, proud, and impossible to ignore.

Soccer in South Africa

Credit: Photo taken by Kuda Chasara at the Buffalo City Municipality Stadium.

Soccer's History in South Africa

The history of soccer in South Africa is a story of passion, perseverance, and ultimately, triumph over adversity. Here's a brief overview:

Early Beginnings (19th Century): Soccer, as it's now known in South Africa, was introduced to the country by British colonialists in the late 19th century. It quickly gained popularity, and the first recorded soccer match in South Africa took place in 1862. 

Formation of the first South African Football Association: The Natal Football Association, the governing body for soccer in the country, was founded in 1892. Initially, it was primarily composed of white clubs, reflecting the racial segregation of the time. Later, in 1991, the new South African Football Association (SAFA) was formed to bring all the clubs together under one roof.

The Struggle Against Apartheid (1970s-1980s): Soccer became a symbol of resistance against apartheid. Many South African soccer players and clubs actively participated in anti-apartheid activities. The sport played a role in uniting communities and providing a platform for political expression.

End of Apartheid and Return to International Competition (1990s): With the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, South African soccer underwent a transformation. The country's return to international competition was symbolized by the readmission of the national team, Bafana Bafana, in 1991. South Africa hosted and won the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, marking a significant milestone in the nation's sporting history. Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk were at there to congratulate them!

2010 FIFA World Cup: A pinnacle moment in South African soccer history was hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This global event showcased the country's ability to organize and celebrate a major international sporting event.

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Today, soccer is one of the most popular sports in South Africa, with a rich and diverse talent pool. The Premier Soccer League (PSL) is the top professional league in the country, featuring clubs that compete domestically and in continental competitions.

Soccer in South Africa is more than just a game; it's a symbol of unity, transformation, and the power of sport to bring people together. The history of soccer in South Africa reflects the nation's journey from division to a shared love for the beautiful game.

Learning to play - just give us a patch of grass and a ball

In South Africa, soccer is an integral part of childhood, with children introduced to the sport through informal play, school programs, community clubs, and specialized youth academies. Informal games in neighbourhoods foster a love for the sport, while schools offer structured coaching and inter-school competitions.

School Soccer South Africa

Community clubs provide essential coaching and competitive platforms, and youth academies affiliated with professional clubs offer advanced training for promising players. Grassroots initiatives aim to make soccer accessible to all, and the South African Football Association (SAFA) runs programs to spot and develop talent.

Informal soccer South Africa Football

Private soccer schools offer intensive coaching, while youth tournaments and festivals provide opportunities for young players to showcase their skills. While there are many opportunities, sadly, many youth cannot access them due to lack of resources and funds. While South Africa's soccer culture continues to inspire the nation's youth, nurturing dreams of representing the country on the international stage, we still have a long way to go to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to excel in the sport.

Bringing a Nation Together

But sports in South Africa isn't just about what happens on the field; it's about the camaraderie, the braais (that's a BBQ for the uninitiated), and the belting of the national anthem. We take our sports seriously. If you don't cry or scream at every missed goal or dropped pass, are you even South African?

But as serious as we are, the way we support our teams is as unique as our sports culture. We've got songs, chants, and dances that could put any cheerleading squad to shame. You haven't lived until you've seen a group of Springbok supporters doing the "Shosholoza" dance in the stands.

Sports in South Africa is more than just a game; it's a deeply ingrained part of our culture. It's about unity, passion, and a good old-fashioned rivalry. So, whether you're a die-hard fan or just a casual observer, when you're in South Africa, you're bound to catch a bit of the sports fever.

And trust me, there's no cure – not that we'd want one anyway. So grab a cold Castle Lager, put on your team's jersey, and join us for a match. You won't regret it!

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