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 Africa Continent Care for Migration Sport: An untapped resource for development

Africa is bedrock of vibrant sporting talent that cuts across various disciplines. Sports in Africa traces its origins far back in history, and the continent is now widely recognized globally for its excellence in various sporting fields. Sports is widely respected across the continent because it brings people together irrespective of their culture and social affiliation.

Today, the sporting industry continues to positively contribute to the African economy. Africa now enjoys an equal opportunity to host high-profile global sporting events that have put Africa on the international sports map. Notable African sports personalities have raised the profile of the continent by excelling in various sporting disciplines and are now global sports personalities.

From North to South, East to West Africa, football is, no doubt, Africa’s most popular and favorite sport. Football is an incredibly exciting game with origins tracing back to the 1800s when the British, French and Portuguese colonialists introduced the sport to Africa. Unlike other sports, football requires minimal resources, and for this reason, it has penetrated every part of Africa. It’s common to find youngsters across the continent, including rural areas, enjoying playing football. Football talent in Africa mostly begins at the grassroots level, and for this reason, many football stars began their careers on local football pitches.

The proliferation of African football clubs began more than 50 years ago, and since then, the number of professional football clubs and leagues have been on the rise. Today, there are many local, as well as regional and continental football leagues across Africa. Many football clubs in Africa receive sponsorship from the private sector and government, which has increased the popularity of the game.

Today, over 100 players drawn from various African teams on the continent play in the first division league in Europe, United States, and South America. In 2010, South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup for the first time on African soil, which was a major boost for African soccer.

Countries well-known for their soccer prowess having performed well in global tournaments include Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa,  Cameroon, Tunisia, and Senegal. Notable African football personalities include Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Adebayor, Yaya Toure, as well as many others. Interestingly, more than 80% of African players who play in World Cup play for various clubs in Europe.

According to the latest world FIFA rankings released on August 10, 2017, Egypt tops the African continent at position 25 globally with 866 points. Democratic Republic of Congo is 2nd in Africa and position 28 globally with 822 points, with Senegal in 3rd position on the continent and position 31 globally with 794 points. Other African countries are Tunisia in 4th in Africa and 34th position globally with 776 points, Cameroon in 5thposition in Africa and 35th position globally with 737 points, and Nigeria in 6th position in Africa and 38thposition in the world with 716 points.


The popularity of rugby has increased rapidly, especially in the recent years when the sport has gained a foothold in a couple of countries in Africa. Did you know South Africa, alone, has over 600,000 registered rugby players? Rugby’s popularity on the continent began in South Africa where it played a key role in ushering in South Africa’s post-apartheid era. Other African countries that have excelled in this sport include Kenya, Namibia, and Ghana.

In 1995, South Africa’s national team, Springboks, won the Rugby World Cup on home soil and Nelson Mandela, then South Africa’s president, wore a No. 6 shirt for Francois Pienaar, a white South African. This was a great moment for South Africa’s racial reconciliation as the two openly embraced cooling down racial tensions.

In Kenya, the rugby industry has grown rapidly with the international annual Safari Sevens Tournament attracting participants from all over the world. In 2016, the Kenyan National Rugby Team won the IRB Sevens World Series in Dubai.

The number of rugby players has been increasing steadily, with South Africa having over 600,000 registered rugby players. On the other hand, Kenya has 40,000 registered players, of whom 3,000 are women and 30,000 are teenagers. According to World Rugby Rankings released on July 17, 2017, South Africa was ranked 5thglobally behind New Zealand, England, Ireland, and Australia.


Even though cycling has always been associated with western nations, the sport has increasingly become popular in Africa. Cycling is a fast-growing sensation and very popular in South Africa, which is famous for its scenic and exciting cycling routes. The diverse cycling routes allow participants to encounter various ecosystems to include streets lined with trees and luscious vineyards.

The Cape Town Cycle Tour, which attracts over 35,000 cyclists, is the world’s largest individually-timed cycling race in the world. Currently in South Africa, there are over 25,600 registered cycling members, of which 2,600 are holders of competitive licenses, 550 track cyclists, 100 paracyclists and 400 BMX cyclists. One of South Africa’s top cyclists include Greg Minnaar, a three-time UCI Mountain Bike World Cup winner. In 2013, Chris Froome, Tour de France winner, launched his professional cycling career in South Africa.

Eritrea is also seen as an upcoming cycling nation, whose great talent and potential has seen Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus become the first Africans to participate in Tour de France. What many do not know is that in 1898, Italian colonialists were the first to introduce bicycles in Eritrea, and ever since, cycling has remained a favorite sport.

Asmara City is popular for its rich biking culture mostly comprised of unique vintage bikes. Neighboring Ethiopia is famous for women’s cycling with phenomenal talent at the grassroots. Other countries that have taken up cycling as a sport include Algeria and Kenya.

Cycling Africa



Africa is an athletics powerhouse, especially in field and track events where the continent has performed extremely well in global competitions. There is no doubt that athletics has put Africa on the global map, and these success stories began a couple of decades ago. Excellent talent on the continent has seen African athletes shine and break major world records at high-profile global sporting events. Several countries in Africa are known for their sterling athletic performance to include KenyaEthiopia, South Africa, and Algeria.

African athletes play a huge role in promoting Africa as a sports continent. In addition, sports tourism has been on a steady incline as a result of the hype and success of athletes. The history of athletics in Africa stretches back to the time of Reggie Walker, a South African sprinter, who became the first African to win an Olympic 100 meter gold medal in 1908.

As countries started gaining independence, athletics continued to increase in popularity with many key personalities winning major international races. Kenya has talented athletes to include Kipchoge Keino, who, in 1968, won the 1500-meter Olympic gold medal in Mexico. Famous Ethiopian athletes include the late Abebe Bikila, double Olympic champion, and retired Haile Gebrselassie, a long distance track champion. Other notable athletic figures in Kenya include David Rudisha, World 800-meter record holder, Asbel Kiprop, Ezekiel Kemboi, as well as 2015 World Champion javelin thrower, Julius Yego.

Women who have excelled in Athletics include Kenya’s Catherine Ndereba, two-time marathon world champion, Ethiopia’s multiple world champion, Tirunesh Dibaba, Mozambique’s Maria Mutola, and four-time Olympic champion, Vivian Cheruiyot, from Kenya.  According to IAAF World Championships Athletics All-Time Medal Table Data, Kenya tops in Africa medal standings with 128 medals, Ethiopia with 72 medals, and South Africa with 21 medals.


Cricket is a popular sport in Africa, especially in South Africa, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. Just like other sports, cricket has become popular and appreciated across the continent. A few decades ago, only white people were allowed to play cricket in South Africa in line with the Apartheid policy. South Africa was banned from participating in international cricket for over 20 years because of apartheid.

After the apartheid regime lost power, South Africa was allowed to participate in international cricket tournaments. In 1992, World Cup fixture against Sri Lanka, Omar Henry was the first South African black player in history to play for the national team. In 2003, Africa hosted the Cricket World Cup which was co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya.

Cricket is also being used to empower communities with a perfect example being the youthful Maasai Warriors in Kenya, who have abandoned the traditional spear and are using cricket to help fight outlawed Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Kenya. This applaudable community initiative has earned the team a lot of admiration, support, and global recognition.

Other countries where cricket is played include Botswana, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. In Nigeria, cricket is the oldest sport with the first official  international match played in 1904, twenty years before Nigeria participated in a football match. Today, many African countries are taking part in numerous international cricket matches while posting impressive results.

According to ICC ODI Championship, South Africa ranks first with 50 matches, 5957 points, and a rating of 119. On the other hand, Zimbabwe has played 41 matches, earning 2129 points, and a rating of 52.

Cricket Africa



Wrestling has always been part of many African communities since time immemorial, where wrestling matches were common in village arenas. This tradition has continued in many communities to this day, particularly in Senegal, Sudan Nubian communities and Southern Egypt where wrestling is quite popular. Successful wrestlers are well-respected and become famous celebrities. Nubian wrestling dates back over 3,000 years and is one of the most ancient martial arts.

Wrestling is the favorite sport in Senegal ahead of soccer, and has also played a key role in social integration and economic empowerment. Aside from being a sport, it is a perfect representation of African culture and tradition. Senegal is one of the most popular and active national sports hubs in West Africa, and for this reason, Senegalese wrestling is now watched across the borders.

Wrestling began in the villages hundreds of years ago, and farmers would go to wrestle to pass the time or watch various fights. During the dry season, the farmers went to the city in search of jobs and realized city dwellers were willing to pay money to watch them wrestle and place bets on matches. Because of poverty, rural dwellers would then fight and entertain the urban dwellers in order to earn money, thus making the sport a favorite in the city.

Wrestling matches are lively with singing, dancing, cheering, and also attract large crowds. They mostly take place in sandy areas where wrestlers attempt to bring down their opponents by making their back, knees or shoulders touch the sand.

Most wrestling bouts don’t last long and end in a couple of seconds or a few minutes. Statistics have revealed that wrestling receives annual sponsorships of about $1 million to $2 million per year. Stadiums flock to capacity and the stakes are high as top national wrestlers can earn up to $200,000 per game. Many African youth see wrestling as a ticket out of poverty, despair and crime. Despite beginning as a traditional sport synonymous with the village, wrestling has become a popular urban sport and there is no doubt the future is bright.

Wrestling Africa



Motor rallies in Africa are known all over the continent and globally, making rallying one of the most popular sports in Africa. The rugged African roads and off-road terrain is a favorite for rally lovers. African rallies are considered to be the most challenging in the world and bring together renowned and upcoming rally drivers.

The number of spectators has continued to grow every successive year as various events are staged around the continent. Countries where rallying is common include Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, and Uganda. The Africa Rally Championship (ARC) is an annual event that is held across several selected African countries.

The KCB Safari Rally in Kenya is one of the most hyped and well-attended events on the African continent. Launched in 1953, fans come from across the world to witness this spectacular event that receives massive media attention. This rally is known as KCB Safari Rally because it is sponsored by the Kenya Commercial Bank.

The Dakar Rally was originally known as Paris-Dakar Rally since it followed the Dakar–Paris route. The Dakar Rally began in 1978 and grew to become one of the best known rallies  in the world. However, in 2009, security threats compelled organizers to change the venue to South America.

Other major rally events in Africa include the East African Safari Classic Rally, whose first event was held in 2003. This rally was launched as an initiative to revive the excitement associated with rallying. Participants in this rally come from all over the world and only classic cars are permitted to participate in the competition. The route traverses rugged rural landscapes in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Other rallies held on the continent include Uganda’s Pearl of Africa Rally that started in 1997, Zambia International Motor Rally, which happens to be one of the oldest rallies in Africa, and Rallye Cote d’Ivoire.

Despite many rallying tournaments on the continent facing numerous challenges such as lack of adequate sponsorship, the sport is still popular. In recent times, numerous newer and smaller corporate-sponsored rallying events are being held periodically in various countries around the African continent.

According to statistics released by FIA, the world motor sport body, Uganda tops the African continent with 2754 points in the 27th position nationally. Rwanda is in 2nd with 2124 points and 34th position globally. Zimbabwe takes the 3rd position in Africa and 38th globally with 1701 points.

Rallying Africa




Since its introduction in the 1960s, basketball has increasingly become popular and is played across the continent. Young African boys and girls love basketball and it’s widely played in neighborhoods for fun, as well dominates school competitions.

When you travel to many African cities, you will see numerous youngsters dressed in sweatshirts, vests and t-shirts with names of famous NBA players. Both public and private schools have availed basketball training facilities that allow youth to better their playing skills.

In recent times, the number of professional teams has increased with many basketball clinics organized to improve the quality of basketball. Some of the countries where basketball is common include Egypt, Tunisia, Cameroon, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Famous Africans who have played on the international stage include former NBA stars, Hakeem Abdul Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo. Olajuwon is a former NBA star who was born in Nigeria and played for the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors. On the other hand, Mutombo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and successfully played 18 NBA seasons.

According to statistics from NIKE FIBA World Men Rankings last updated on August 21, 2016, Nigeria tops the continent at position 16 globally with 106.2 points. Tunisia is 2nd in Africa and 21st globally with 69.0 points. Other Africa countries that feature on the list are Angola at 23rd position with 66.0 points, Cote d’Ivoire at 40thposition with 20.4 points, and Egypt at 41st position with 19.2 points.



The importance of sports has not been sufficiently appreciated by African governments for it to be integrated into their national development plans. There is no doubt that sports could play a critical role in attaining peace, development and stability.

Sports is an area of human interaction where respect for rules, teamwork and fair play are the norm. Teamwork, cooperation, abiding by the rules, respect for opponents and similar concepts all feature in the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. Sports include all forms of physical exercise, whether local or imported, amateur or professional, casual or organized. Despite the importance of sports, it is an area which is underdeveloped and underfunded, especially in Africa. Moreover, the sector has suffered from scandal, corruption and marginalization. This article explores the factors that have hindered mainly amateur sports (football and athletics) from taking its rightful place on the national development agendas of African countries.

1. Policy vacuum

Some African countries have sports policies but the majority are fragmented and uncoordinated. Moreover, the ministries in charge of sports are often sandwiched in other ministries. The ministries or departments in charge of sports suffer from underfunding and are unable to support priority activities, let alone establish and enforce policies. For example, Steiner (2008) noted that the challenges of sports development in Ghana are a result of the fact that activities are limited since they are held but once a year. The athletes at the end of the competition go back to their region and village to wait a year or two for another regional event, making it difficult to develop new talent. In the case of the United Republic of Tanzania, a sports policy has been in place but it has suffered from a lack of implementation (Mwisukha and Mabagala, 2011). In Benin, a sports policy is in place, too, yet the government has no capacity to implement it. In Burkina Faso, there has been progress in implementing its sports policy (Keim and de Coning, 2014). In the case of Kenya, Keim and de Coning (2014) state that sports policies and legislative arrangements are out of date, with poor strategic planning development by the government. The above study noted, however, that the Government of Kenya’s efforts are recognized in areas such as capacity-building and training as well as in providing an enabling environment in which civil society and the private sector could support sports activities. From the study of Keim and Coning (2014), it can be seen that a number of African countries should be assisted to implement their existing policies and a number should be helped to develop realistic and practical sports policies.

2. Poor governance

Sports stands for good governance, respect for the rules, fair play, honesty and discipline. Yet sports ministries suffer from poor governance. According to Mwisukha and Mabagala (2011), personnel serving in the various national sports federations and organizations in East Africa as managers are not trained professionals in the areas of sports management and administration. In view of this and other factors, many African countries feature prominently on the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index; mostly in football (Pannenborg, 2010). Most African journalists are of the opinion that corruption has ruined African football. There are substantial sums of money, coming from various sponsors and FIFA development projects, which have disappeared into people’s pockets and most African football facilities, are in an appalling condition.

As Chiweshe (2014) stipulates, African football is in a bad state by all standards. Dealing with corrupt individuals has made it difficult to follow FIFA standing rules concerning non-interference in football matters by governments or state bodies. Even with a number of African players playing in major leagues abroad, performance of African teams at the World Cup continues to deteriorate; and at the national level the football clubs suffer from polarization, corruption and tribalism.

In athletics, several revelations have been made that athletes from some African countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, etc.) are using performance-enhancing substances. Some of the athletes have been banned from participation for a few years, and for others, the verdict is awaited. Some athletes have accused their coaches, sports boards and management of encouraging them to cheat in order to win good prize money. This problem is seen not only in Africa but also in developed countries such as the Russian Federation. Doping is now a threat to world athletics, Africa included. For example, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had given Kenya a deadline of 2 May 2016 by which to come up with an anti-doping law to ensure that the country is not banned from participating in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The new law came into effect on 22 April 2016 and establishes that any athlete found guilty will be heavily fined or jailed for a term which could be as long as three years for anyone found guilty of providing or administering a banned substance.

Regardless of laws, to restore integrity in athletics, the athletes should be clean and compete by the book. Moreover, given that African athletes are young and some are naïve, WADA and national sports associations and management should organize workshops and seminars to deepen the understanding of the threats of doping to their health and their career prospects. Hence, it is imperative for all stakeholders, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC), FIFA, African governments and national sports associations, to work closely together to eradicate mismanagement and corruption by strengthening and improving national accountability and transparency mechanisms.

3. Inadequate investment

Most existing facilities in Africa are in very poor condition and they will need extremely heavy investment to bring them back to international standards. Currently, with the devolved government system in Kenya, there is a lot of effort by county governments to upgrade the existing facilities in order to promote, among other things, sports tourism. In the case of South Africa, Bogopa (2001) mentions that the planning of South Africa townships does not allow or have spaces for recreational facilities. He adds that the schools within the townships and rural areas have no sports facilities, unlike those in the rich suburbs in major cities or towns in South Africa; the urban areas also have world-class stadiums and facilities which benefited from investment in hosting the World Cup in 2010.

According to Chiweshe (2010), other countries invested substantial sums of money to build and renovate stadiums to host the Africa Cup of Nations; however, the investments which have gone into expanding sports development in Africa have frequently been affected by mismanagement and corruption.

African people like football and when they have an external match, the stadiums are full; unfortunately, no one sees revenues from the high attendance helping to expand the sports sector. Likewise, Zimbalist (2015) argues that the investment returns from the London and Beijing Olympics were disappointing: most of the funds were mismanaged. In fact, Zimbalist suggests that IOC and FIFA should abandon their preferences for new construction and give a fair hearing to bids relying on existing facilities. This is because, after the games, facilities that cost billions of dollars to build have turned out to be white elephants, such as the Athens volleyball stadium which is now inhabited by squatters and a softball park which is overgrown with trees; in Beijing a cycling race track is infested with weeds and in Brazil a football pitch with 40,000 seats is now used by a second division team which draws around 1,500 fans a match (Zimbalist 2015). Given the heavy investment needed to upgrade existing or build new infrastructure, there is a need for both IOC and FIFA to re-examine Zimbalist’s suggestion of taking the existing facilities into consideration in the host-selection process. Whichever the case, the committees in charge in both organizations–IOC and FIFA- for host-selection process should come up with a criteria which is cost-effective and sustainable.

4. Recognition of the role of sports in development

The importance of sports has not been sufficiently appreciated by African governments for it to be integrated into their national development plans. There is no doubt that sports could play a critical role in attaining peace, development and stability. One of the areas to which sport can contribute is health.

In the words of the famous Roman poet Decimus Junius Juvenalis, “mens sana in corpore sano – a sound mind in a sound body”. In other words, sports activities can help improve our minds and self-esteem and engender a general sense of well-being. For example, regular exercise can brighten the mood, increase energy and improve sleep, and it can supplement treatment for depression, stress and anxiety. Thus, a physically active population significantly reduces national health expenditure, as fewer people get sick and people are more alert and productive. Furthermore, other than in Africa, sports is a booming industry internationally(such as the European football clubs and others) which employs large numbers of people and generates substantial revenues either directly in sports themselves or indirectly through associated activities, all of which contributes not only to the alleviation of poverty but also to raising the living standards.

In addition, some large companies in Africa, including commercial banks, sponsor sporting events and recruit sports personalities to market their products and increase sales. Sports paraphernalia are among the hottest-selling items in the world’s leisure market, including scarves, shorts, hats, mugs and ashtrays. Other development areas in which sports has continued to make progress include youth development, environment, governance and international peace. For instance, friendship, understanding, tolerance and peace are all fostered through sports. Besides, social cohesion is also promoted through sports as people from all walks of life, from presidents to peasants, come together to rally behind their team in competition.


Sporting activities have a wide range of benefits, from improved personal health, job creation and income-generation to the promotion of cultural values and national identity. These potential benefits have yet to be fully realized across Africa. Stronger partnership needs to be forged between sports associations and the private sector to promote sporting activities, particularly sports infrastructure. African countries need to change their attitude to sports to ensure that they have realistic and up-to-date policies that are strengthened by strong legal frameworks to combat corruption and mismanagement. For example, working as a manager or coach might be acceptable in Europe or North America, but in Africa, careers in sports are not seen as sustainable and rewarding.

It is ironic that Africa has emerging economic powers who are able to perform very well on an international sporting stage but is lacking organizations and businesses to manufacture or produce sports equipment and sports construction materials for not only the intra-Africa market but also outside markets. By and large, integration of sports into the mainstream national development agenda will be essential and the first step to developing the sports industry, enabling it to serve as a catalyst for increased productivity and performance to improve the living standards of the African people. In the words of the late President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, “Sports has the power to inspire—and it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does…sports can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers”. This is true: when Kenya recently won the World Rugby Sevens Series in Singapore, the team was given a VIP reception when they arrived home, and this occasion united Kenyans to celebrate a great national achievement.

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