South Africa hosts some of the world’s biggest sporting events


When it comes to successfully hosting major international sporting events, South Africa’s track record speaks for itself.

FIFA World Cup 2010, Soccer City, South Africa, Bafana Bafana, Mexico, 11 June 2010
South African and international spectators gather at the opening match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City, Johannesburg on 11 June 2010, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa. (Image: Wikipedia)

Brand South Africa reporter

The Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup, A1 Grand Prix, Indian Premier League, World Cups of Golf, Athletics, Swimming … and the biggest of them all, the 2010 FIFA World Cup — South Africa is a sport-loving nation and warmly welcomes the world to share in that love.

“Sport has the power to change the world … It has the power to inspire,” said Nelson Mandela. “It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

Taking the love for sport further, as a host, South Africa has proven its capabilities time and again. The country has some of the world’s best sports arenas and stadiums, with world-class facilities, as well as the capacity to accommodate big crowds, with the best security features.

The country’s track record is great; these examples of sporting events held in South Africa speak for themselves:

International events

Homegrown internationals


1995 Rugby World Cup

Since 1995, when Nelson Mandela handed the William Webb Ellis Trophy to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar after a pulsating Rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg, South Africa has shown itself capable not only of hosting the really big sporting events, but of making really big successes of them.

1996 African Nations Cup

Nelson Mandela was on hand once more to present the African Nations Cup trophy to South Africa’s soccer team, Bafana Bafana, in 1996. As with the Rugby World Cup the previous year, the continent’s premier footballing event went off smoothly in South Africa, with full houses and impressively well-behaved supporters – something not always associated with international soccer matches!

1996 World Cup of Golf

Cape Town’s Erinvale Golf Club hosted to the World Cup of Golf in 1996. Ernie Els and Wayne Westner took full advantage of the familiar conditions and home crowd support to decimate the opposition, winning the event by a record 18 shots.

1998 World Cup of Athletics

The world’s top athletes were in Johannesburg for the World Cup of Athletics in 1998. Despite unusually poor weather for South Africa’s business capital, the event went off without a hitch, with local athletes playing a vital role in helping Africa to victory in the team competition. Highlights included a gold medal for Namibian superstar Frankie Fredericks in the 200m final.

2003 Cricket World Cup

Home advantage didn’t help the South African team in 2003, as an under-performing Proteas side failed to progress to the knockout stage of cricket’s showcase tournament. The event was well supported and impeccably run, with day-night matches becoming a staple of the event for the first time. In a high-scoring final in Johannesburg, Australia defended the title they had won four years previously in England.

2003 President’s Cup

The 2003 President’s Cup, held at Fancourt near George in the Western Cape, was rated one of the best-organised – and most exciting – golfing events ever. The four-day shootout between the United States and International team culminated in a sudden-death playoff between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els that went through three holes before fading light finally halted play. In a first for the competition, team captains Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player agreed to share the trophy – even though, as defending champions, the USA should have kept it. Afterwards, Nicklaus said it was “the most unbelievable event the game of golf has ever seen”.

2005-2008 Women’s World Cup of Golf

Fancourt, near George in the Western Cape, was home to the inaugural Women’s World Cup of Golf in 2005, which was won by Japan. In 2006 the event moved to the Gary Player Country Club at Sun City, home of the Nedbank Golf Challenge, one of golf’s richest tournaments. Sweden, led by Annika Sorenstam, took the title.

In 2007, at the same venue, first-timers Paraguay stunned the 21 other competing countries to win by seven strokes. Paraguay’s Julieta Granada commented afterwards: “The crowds were awesome … They were cheering us on and they liked our outfits. It was a lot of fun. And the baboons. I liked the baboons. They are all my friends.”

In 2008, the Philippines held off South Korea to win the title by two strokes.

2006 Paralympic Swimming World Championships

In 2006, Durban hosted the fourth International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships. South Africa’s Natalie du Toit excelled, winning six gold medals, including a third place overall – against both male and female opposition – in the 5km open water swim.

2007 World Twenty20 Championships

South Africa hosted cricket’s inaugural Twenty20 World Championships with style to match its efficiency, creating a vibe and energy that many felt was lacking at the 2007 World Cup (for the longer, 50-overs-a-side version of the game) in the West Indies earlier in the year. South Africa has one of the more colourful national flags, and the abiding memory of the event will be one of colour, with fans from far and wide becoming part of the spectacle as sports and entertainment collided in a wildly successful first edition of the shortest form of international cricket.

2009 FIFA Confederations Cup

South Africa hosted the 2009 Fifa Confederations Cup – a dress rehearsal for the 2010 Fifa World Cup – with great success. The event was enthusiastically supported by colourful, pulsating crowds, and the football itself was hugely entertaining.

Bafana Bafana made it to the semi-finals, where they were beaten 1-0 by Brazil, who scored an 87th minute winner. The USA shocked European champions Spain 2-0 to reach the final.

In the playoff for third and fourth, Spain edged South Africa 3-2 after extra time in a humdinger, while Brazil went on to claim the title with a 3-2 win over the USA, having fought back from 2-0 down at the break.

2009 Indian Premier League

What a turnaround the 2009 DLF Indian Premier League brought from the first year of the 20-overs-a-side cricket extravaganza. The final featured the two teams that propped up the table in 2008, and the tournament flourished – not in India but in South Africa!

The most lucrative cricket tournament in the world was moved to South Africa after the Indian government conceded that it was unable to guarantee security in that country, due to elections taking place in India at the time, and following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan national team in neighbouring Pakistan in March.

The tournament took place in six cities across South Africa from 18 April to 24 May, with the Deccan Chargers, the “cellar dwellers” in 2008, holding off the Royal Challengers Bangalore to win the final by six runs at a packed Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg.

The story of the 2009 IPL, however, was the incredible success of an event that was moved to South Africa from India only three weeks before it was due to begin. The sold-out grounds heaved, buzzed and roared to the glitz and glamour of the IPL and its massive Bollywood connections, with teams featuring the cream of the world’s cricketers.

2009 ICC Champions Trophy

Like the IPL, the 2009 ICC Champions Trophy was not originally scheduled for South Africa. The country was chosen to host the event following a terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan national team in Pakistan in March. Sri Lanka was originally selected as the new venue, but when doubts were expressed about the weather conditions in the island nation in September-October, it was decided to move it to South Africa.

In the final, played at SuperSport Park in Centurion on 5 October, Australia ended the run of tournament giant-killers New Zealand to claim the title. The elite, eight-nation, 50-overs-a-side competition went off without a glitch, in the process providing an excellent yardstick for the International Cricket Council to measure the “longer” limited-overs version of the game against its upstart rival, Twenty20 cricket.

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

For the first time, South Africa hosted a round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg in 2009. The event, unusually, included downhill, cross-country, and four-cross and drew fantastic crowds. In fact, the organisers ran out of tickets, leading to a decision to open the gates to fans at no cost.

Home town favourite Greg Minnaar thrilled the locals by rocketing to victory in the downhill event, while Burry Stander, from Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, shone with third place in the cross-country.

The Cascades Mountain Bike Park again hosted the World Cup in 2011 and 2012 with great success. Minnaar thrilled with second place in ’11 and another victory in ’12, while Stander was 11th in ’11 after a crash and second to Nino Schurter in 2012.

2010 Fifa World Cup

South Africa’s 2010 Fifa World Cup put to rest, once and for all, the idea that Africa is incapable of hosting world-class events of this magnitude. Fifa gave the country a near-perfect 9 out of 10 for the show it put on.

Spain won the football’s biggest prize for the first time, beating Holland 1-0 in extra time in front of a worldwide television audience estimated at 700-million. While the Spanish made a favourable impression on the field, South Africa and its people were the real stars of the tournament.

Everyone who visited the country was bowled over by the warmth of the welcome they received, the quality of the country’s facilities, the richness of its attractions – and the sheer energy running through Africa’s first Fifa World Cup.

South Africans united as never before during the event – and Bafana Bafana weren’t the only object of their flag-waving, vuvuzela-blasting enthusiasm. Ghana felt the love, too, as did every foreign visitor to the Rainbow Nation in its finest hour since 1994.

2010 BMX World Championships

Less than a month after the completion of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, Pietermaritzburg was a very successful host of the 2010 BMX World Championships.

A first-of-its-kind track was built for the event, incorporating two different starting ramps.

The racing was adrenaline-filled stuff, with Latvia’s Maris Strombergs and Great Britain’s Shanaze Reade coming out tops in the men’s and women’s elite categories.

South Africa’s Sifiso Nhlapo thrilled the home crowd by finishing second to Strombergs, while there were golds for Sharlene McGillvray in the women’s plus-45 age group, Teagan O’Keefe in the elite junior girls’ division, and Georgina Grassie in the girls’ 9 final.

2013 Africa Nations Cup

After a revolution in Libya in 2011, the Confederation of African Football chose to move the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations from the north African country to South Africa. They needn’t have had any concerns as the Rainbow Nation put on a superb show.

Crowds were impressive and the football entertaining. Hosts South Africa won Group A, but were eliminated in the quarterfinals, losing to world number 25 Mali in a penalty shootout.

Nigeria ousted Cote d’Ivoire, Africa’s top ranked team, in the quarterfinals, then crushed Mali 4-1 in the semi-finals before going on to a 1-0 win over surprise package Burkina Faso in the final. The victory was the Super Eagles third Afcon title. Mali snared third place with a 3-1 win over Ghana.

2006-2009 A1 Grand Prix

South Africa hosted a leg of the inaugural A1 Grand Prix in 2006, when the Durban event was named the best event in the World Cup of Motorsport’s first season. A sell-out crowd of close to 100 000 fans lined the 3.2-kilometre street circuit in South Africa’s “coastal playground” as the Netherlands took the honours in the feature race, following France’s victory in the sprint race.

Still in Durban, Germany scored back-to-back wins in the sprint and feature races in 2007, while Switzerland and Canada shared the feature and sprint honours respectively in 2008.

In 2009, the South African A1 Grand Prix moved to Kyalami, Johannesburg, previously the home of the South African Formula One Grand Prix. Jeroen Bleekemolen of the Netherlands and Neel Jani of Switzerland secured victories in the sprint and feature races.

Fina Swimming World Cup

Durban has been one of eight stop-offs on the Fina Swimming World Cup short-course (25 metre) circuit since 2003, drawing some of the world’s best swimmers to the Kings Park Aquatic Centre – and helping to eradicate the myth of Africa being poor in swimming talent and infrastructure. South Africa’s Ryk Neethling was the overall men’s winner of the event for two years running, with 21 race victories in the 2004/05 series and 16 victories in 2005/06.

Red Bull Big Wave Africa

The Red Bull Big Wave Africa surfing event took place for 10 years, from 1999 through 2008, at Dungeons reef at the mouth of Hout Bay in Cape Town, renowned for its ability to produce the biggest rideable waves on the coast of Africa. The event is currently “in hibernation”. Not surprisingly given its extreme nature and stringent criteria, there were just four champions: South Africa’s Sean Holmes in 2000, Californian Greg Long in 2003, South African John Whittle in 2006, and South African Grant “Twiggy” Baker in 2008.

Six-star rated surfing events

Still on surfing, South Africa is home to a six-star rated World Championship Tour event, the Billabong Pro at Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay – said to be capable of producing “the perfect wave” – as well as two six-star rated World Qualifying Series events: the long-standing Mr Price Pro (formerly the Gunston 500) in Durban, and the Quiksilver Pro Durban.


Besides the growing list of international competitions that have been hosted in South Africa, the country boasts a number of homegrown sporting events that have become international events in their own right.

Nedbank Golf Challenge

The annual Nedbank Golf Challenge at Sun City in North West province consistently attracts a world-class field, and for good reason. “Africa’s Major” is one of the world’s richest tournaments, with a total prize fund of over US$4.3-million. In addition, the venue is fantastic – the Gary Player Country Club course was designed by South Africa’s greatest sportsman of the twentieth century and is situated in the beautiful Sun City resort. And the event is scheduled around the beginning of December, after the world’s different leading tours have finished for the year.

Previous participants include Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Bernhard Langer, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, David Frost, Ian Woosnam, Mark O’Meara, Jose Maria Olazabel, Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood.

Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour

The largest individually timed cycling event in the world, the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour is part of the International Cycling Union’s prestigious Golden Bike Series, one of only nine races in the world accorded this honour. Besides drawing a host of top professionals, who ride the Argus as the final stage of the Giro del Capo, the event has drawn many famous names through the years, including former Tour de France winners Miguel Indurain, Jan Ullrich and Greg Lemond. If there is one event that might one day eclipse the Argus in size, it is another South African race, Johannesburg’s Pick n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge.

Giro del Capo

Preceding the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour, the Giro del Capo is South Africa’s foremost professional stage race. The event is contested through the stunning winelands of the Boland and the areas surrounding Cape Town, finishing with the Argus as its final stage. Besides the entries of top local teams, the Giro has attracted teams from Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Norway.

Cape Epic

The Cape Epic has become a huge drawcard for mountain bikers from around the world. It is the most widely broadcast mountain bike event in the world, and it’s not hard to see why: the picturesque but torturous 900-kilometre route covers some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery, while requiring competitors to use a variety of skills over an eight-stage course that challenges in every different way.

Comrades Marathon

The world’s greatest ultra-marathon, contested annually between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the Comrades is internationally recognised for the body-sapping challenge it poses and the camaraderie it fosters among its participants. In 2000, when the 75th anniversary of the race was celebrated, it drew a record field of 23 961. Many of the world’s top ultra-marathon athletes enter the race, with Eastern Europeans making an especially strong impression in recent years. The King of Comrades, though, remains South Africa’s Bruce Fordyce, with nine wins between 1981 and 1990.

Watch the official documentary on the history of one of South Africa’s greatest sporting traditions. 

Two Oceans Marathon

Like the Comrades, the Two Oceans Marathon is, in fact, an ultra, covering 56 kilometres on a route often described as the most beautiful in the world. The race drew over 1 000 foreign entries in 2007, when 8 000 athletes entered the ultra, 11 000 entered the half-marathon and 6 000 turned out for the fun run – making for a total of 25 000 runners on the day.

Dusi Canoe Marathon

The Dusi Canoe Marathon is recognised as one of the toughest canoe marathons in the world, testing not only the paddler’s skills on the water but also his or her running ability, with plenty of portages along the route between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. While foreign competitors have been few and far between in the past, due to the Dusi’s unusual combination of challenges, that has begun to change in recent years.

Surfski World Cup Durban

The Surfski World Cup Durban, first held in 2006, has been officially accredited by the International Canoe Federation – the first time a surf ski world cup event has received ICF recognition. South Africa won both the men’s and women’s title at the 2008-2010 events, which boasted the biggest prize money in the sport, confirming South Africa as a world leader in ocean paddling, both on and off the water.

*Article updated 20 June 2017

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