For a sports fan, traveling to a new destination can come with the rush of experiencing your favorite hobby in a whole new way. Maybe that means making your way across the country—or the globe—to check “see my favorite team play” off the bucket list. Or, perhaps it’s catching a match of an unfamiliar sport on TV in a rowdy pub—cheering when the home team scores, and asking a local about the ins and outs of the game over a pint. It could be as simple as kicking a ball around with some kids in the town square—always wondering if one of them will grow up to become the next great sports hero of a team, or a country, or the world. Whatever it may be, diving into the fandom and fervor of local sports is a great way to explore culture when you travel.
In 2020, we’re cruising to South Africa for the first time. It’s one of the world’s best destinations for sports fans, with several national teams and a passionate local fan base. Sport is also an integral part of South Africa’s culture, interwoven with its history, politics, and race relations.
Let’s explore the most popular sports in South Africa, where the crowds roar as loud as the lions do.
Sports in South Africa
The three most popular sports in South Africa are football (soccer), rugby, and cricket. The country is one of only four to play in World Cups for all three sports—England, New Zealand, and Australia are the others.
Although sport has been growing in inclusivity since the end of South Africa’s racist Apartheid policies, fandom and play still tend to fall along racial lines. During the Apartheid years, sport in South Africa was segregated and the country was banned from most international competitions, including World Cups for soccer, rugby, and cricket and the Olympics.
Football is the most widely played sport in South Africa, and has historically been particularly popular in black communities.
South Africa’s national football team is nicknamed “Bafana Bafana”, a Zulu phrase that means “the boys, the boys” or “go boys, go boys!” Bafana Bafana is based in Johannesburg, but hosts games across South Africa.
The team is governed by the South African Football Association, which became the country’s first non-racial football association when it was created in 1991. Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in 1996, and became the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup in 2010. (2010 will forever be known as the year the vuvuzela, a type of plastic horn popular in South Africa, was introduced to the world in a deafening fashion. They were subsequently banned.)
South African Springboks Rugby
South Africa’s national rugby team, the Springboks, is among the best in the world. They’ve won two national championships and are consistently ranked among the top six teams in the world. Like Bafana Bafana, the Springboks host games across South Africa.
Rugby has been played in South Africa since the late 1800s, and was originally adopted by several racial groups. However, even prior to Apartheid, discriminatory practices within organized sport limited access for people of color. The lingering effects of those racist policies remain, and to this day rugby is mostly played and supported by white South Africans.
In 1995 the Springboks hosted the Rugby World Cup. Not only was it the first Rugby World Cup South Africa was admitted to play in, but it was the first major sporting event the country hosted post-Apartheid. In the final match, South Africa defeated New Zealand—an iconic victory in the country’s sporting history. Given the popularity of rugby among white South Africans, the image of President Nelson Mandela wearing a Springboks jersey to present a trophy to team captain François Pienaar was a significant moment of unity for the post-Apartheid country. The story was retold in the 2009 film Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
South African Cricket
Cricket was also introduced in South Africa by colonialism in the 1800s. Like other sports in South Africa, decades of racist Apartheid-era segregation laws prevented South Africans of color from playing the sport at its highest level. In South Africa, white and Indian populations have typically played and supported cricket.
Today, South Africa is one of only 12 countries permitted by the International Cricket Council to play Test Cricket (the highest form of the sport). In 1995, Makhaya Ntini made his debut as the first black South African to play on the national team. However, the higher cost of playing cricket still presents a barrier to entry for disenfranchised groups.
South Africa’s national cricket team, the Proteas, is highly ranked internationally, yet has a record of losing championship games. Cricket games of varying levels are played across the country, and are easy to take in when visiting during summer months. There are also several franchise teams, like the Cape Cobras in Cape Town and the Dolphins in Durban.
We’re Cruising to South Africa! Are You Game?
Pack your vuvuzela! In 2020, we’re cruising to five different ports in South Africa. We’ll be calling on Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban, and Rcihard’s Bay—as well as offering an array of Land and Sea packages to take you even further. If you ask us, these itineraries are a grand slam!
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