Sport Tourist’s Diary

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” – Nelson Mandela, Rugby World Cup final, Johannesburg 1995.

Sport also inspires people to travel, make new friends and explore other cultures.

Recognised as one of the most lucrative sectors in global tourism and one of the fastest growing, sports tourism is set for something of a boom in South Africa in the next few years. Not only will the country again be hosting a number and variety of sporting events that usually draw large numbers of international visitors and stimulate domestic travel, but the recent international performances of its national teams and individual sports stars have gained the country valuable attention.

Not least among these was the Springbok rugby team that won the Rugby World Cup in Japan, with its captain, Siya Kolisi, catapulted to international super stardom overnight. After Japan, there is not a kid on the planet who knows what a rugby ball is that doesn’t know who the Springboks and Kolisi are and from which country they come. And that’s a powerful tourism marketing platform.

Big upcoming events in SA

But apart from the ‘regular’ sports events in South Africa this year – like Bafana’s international football matches, the Comrades Marathon and rugby’s international Super Rugby fixtures in South Africa – a number of special events have been added to the country’s sports diary from this year going into 2023.

Some of the mouth-watering events sports lovers have already enjoyed or can look forward to in South Africa this year, include an exhibition tennis match between tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal which took place in Cape Town on February 7; an Australian cricket tour which follows the English one that has just ended; and South Africa hosting the 2020 Under-19 Cricket World Cup that ended early in February. Following the Blitzbokke’s excellent performance in 2019, Sevens rugby fans from around the globe can hardly wait for the Rugby Sevens World Cup to be hosted in South Africa in 2022. Then in 2023 South Africa will host the Netball World Cup. But there’s much more.

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world and the only one in Africa that has hosted multiple world cup events across different sports codes. In 2010 it became the first African host of the FIFA Soccer World Cup, while it has also hosted world cup events in women’s golf, bowls, rugby and cricket, as well as major international events in athletics, swimming, tennis, motorcar and motorcycle racing, equestrian events, boxing, martial arts, and many other sports codes. For a country with a population of less than 60-million, South Africa has also produced a surprisingly high number of world champion teams and individuals over the years.

With these world-class sporting events come the visitors from all over the planet. Sports fans from all over the world know how much this sport and outdoor-loving country has to offer them, from world class sports venues and events, excellent travel and accommodation infrastructure, modern cities with everything they may wish for, to unsurpassed natural scenery, national parks, game reserves, a spectacular coast line, hikes, diving, adventure activities, and everything from the Western Cape’s winelands and Table Mountain to Limpopo and Mpumalanga’s Kruger National Park, or from the Northern Cape’s Richtersveld mountain desert and World Heritage Site to the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park. And a further million delights in-between.

After South Africa successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, interest in sports tourism to South Africa grew significantly, with more than 10% of foreign tourists to South Africa now coming here to watch or participate in sport events. Of these arrivals some 60% to 80% were spectators, the rest being participants and officials.

Sport has developed into a major conduit for travel with fans following their national teams around the world. English cricket has an internationally travelling fan club known as the Barmy Army who regularly make their presence known in cricket stadiums around the world with their crazy costumes, English flags and English songs. During England’s South African cricket tour in January this year, the fact that South Africa lost the second test match at Newlands in Cape Town was made even worse by the fact that there were actually more English fans in the stands than South Africans! One headline in the local media afterwards read, “Little Britain – the day Newlands became England’s home ground”.

Promoting local tourism too

But sports tourism does not only depend on international visitors; it also motivates South Africans to travel in their own country. It’s surprising that with their country being one of the most spectacular and popular tourist destinations in the world, how many South Africans have yet to discover so much of what their own country offers. But major sporting events – in a sports-mad country – have motivated a dramatic increase in local travel by South Africans, combining their favourite sporting events in other cities or regions with some additional sightseeing and leisure activities while they are there.

So when the Gauteng fans travel to Cape Town for a Bulls and Stormers clash at Newlands, they stay for the weekend and throw in a wine tasting tour of one of the wine routes, a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, a ferry ride to Robben Island and some crayfish and mussels at a seafood lapa on the beach at Langebaan.

Equally so, when horse racing enthusiasts from all over the country flock to the Durban July they add in some uShaka Marine World, Umhlanga’s beaches, a visit to the Valley of a Thousand Hills, explore the Asian spice market, do the bungee jump off the top of the Moses Mabhida Stadium and much more. Sport has opened tourism doors, experiences, routes and destinations in this country like never before, whether you are local or come from afar.

From kiteboarding to golf

It’s not just the big sporting events that bring tourists to South Africa or have local sports fans travelling around the country. For instance, each year from around December until about March during the Western Cape’s windy southeaster season, hundreds of foreign kiteboarders descend on Cape Town. They spend the windy months here preparing for international competitions, the first of which takes place at Table View in Cape Town, or simply just come here to enjoy the excellent kiteboarding conditions as enthusiastic amateurs. Another popular kiteboarding spot for locals and international visitors alike is the Langebaan Lagoon area on the West Coast.

Golf is another popular drawcard of tourists to South Africa. While major tournaments like the Sun City Classic and the tournaments of the Sunshine Tour are popular with fans local and international, it is rather the abundance of world-class golf courses in South Africa that draws the tourist amateurs here. As a golf destination, South Africa is sought-after and ranked among the top dozen of the world’s most popular golfing destinations.

South Africa has around 470 golf courses countrywide, with golf courses in game reserves, at gambling and holiday resorts, combined with luxury housing estates, on cliffs overlooking the sea, in the Bushveld, in forests, or in the desert, supplemented by indoor and outdoor driving ranges and practice putting greens. KwaZulu-Natal is the province with the most golf courses at 86. Golf estates also draw substantial foreign investment into the country.

What is more – and unbeatable by any other country – is that in South Africa golf tourists and professional international players alike can combine their golf tour with wildlife safaris and even play their golf inside the Kruger National Park, sharing space on the greens with wild animals, including the Big Five. Or they can combine a golf tour with South Africa’s many other sought-after tourism offerings, like a trip on an old-worldly steam train across the country, hiking across Table Mountain or along the magnificent Wild Coast, visiting Robben Island or the historic battlefields in KwaZulu- Natal, and much, much more.

Sport money talks

Sports Tourism is now one of the largest and fastest growing of all tourism markets with a myriad of tour operators who specialise only in sports tourism now active around the world. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimated that in 2014, for example, sports tourism contributed $600 billion to the global travel and tourism economy. In that year same year, according to a report of the US National Association of Sports Commissions (NASC) there were 25.65 million sports visitors to the United States who spent an estimated $8.96 billion while there.

Globally, golf is big business. The International Association of Golf Tour Operators’ (IAGTO), established in 1997, has a membership of 2,544 accredited golf tour operators, golf resorts, hotels, golf courses, receptive operators, airlines, tourist boards, approved media and business partners in 98 countries including South Africa. At the core of the organisation are the 681 specialist golf tour operators in 65 countries who control an estimated 87% of golf holiday packages sold worldwide with annual turnover of more than €2.1 billion or R34.54-billion.

Sports Marketing Surveys of South Africa estimate that in South Africa, the golf industry generated total revenue of around R30 billion and created over 50,000 jobs, with the overall worth of the golf industry with multiplier effect being estimated at around R58.4 billion.

The 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, won by South Africa’s Springboks and which took place during September to November last year, saw 1,698,528 people from all over the world attending the 45 matches. A further 1.13 million people attended the 16 official tournament fan zones in Japan. World Rugby listed 28 broadcasters that had acquired rights to the tournament across different countries and regions, most of them recording record peak viewing figures such as 12.8 million viewers on ITV of the England-South Africa match or 54.8 million Japanese viewers watching the crucial Japan-Scotland game. A video of Springbok captain Kolisi’s post-match interview after South Africa’s 32-12 victory over England to win the cup, racked up 2.5 million views via the Rugby World Cup’s official Twitter handle, generating in excess of 12,000 retweets and more than 50,000 likes.

With over 400,000 tourists visiting Japan specifically for the rugby, it is expected that the Rugby World Cup will have raked in a record US$4 billion for Japan, which welcomed more than 400,000 international visitors over the duration of the tournament. World Rugby also says that the Japan Rugby World Cup 2019 resulted in more than 1.8 million new rugby participants across Asia as the sport broke new boundaries. All of this equates to a massive tourism boost for Japan and may result in more sports tourism also for the home countries of the top teams, especially South Africa, home of the world champions.

Sports diary of upcoming events

So, if you are a local or foreign sports enthusiast who also has a penchant for travel and discovering new experiences and places, the South African sports diary of events for 2020 and beyond, is mouth-wateringly impressive with something for everyone. erteHere are some- but certainly not all – of the major upcoming events:

EventCode DateWhere
Under-19 Cricket World CupCricketJanuary 17 – February 9This world cup tournament was recently concluded at venues around South Africa
Vodacom Super RugbyRugbyJanuary – JuneInternational rugby franchise teams from South Africa, Nieu Zealand, Australia & Argentina – local South African fixtures can be found at
Australia tour of South AfricaCricketFebruary 21 – March 73 T20 and 3 ODI matches in different South African venues
Dusi Canoe MarathonCanoe raceFebruary 27-29Msunduzi and Mgeni Rivers, Pietermaritzburg to Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
MTB Stage RacesMountain bike racingFebruary – NovemberNumerous events across South Africa at some of the most scenic parts – full year calendar at
Cape Town Cycle TourCycling raceMarch 842nd edition of the biggest timed bicycle race in the world held in Cape Town
Ironman African ChampionshipTriathlonMarch 29Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, Eastern Cape – 75 qualifying slots for the 2020 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i.
Rolex TP52 World Championship 2020Sailing regattaMarch 31 – April 4Cape Town, Western Cape
Two Oceans MarathonUltramarathonApril 11Africa’s biggest running event and ‘the world’s most beautiful marathon’ run around Cape Town
Ironman 70.3 DurbanTriathlonJune 7Standard Bank Ironman 70.3 Durban, KwaZulu-Natal – 40 qualifying places for 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Taupõ, New Zealand
Comrades MarathonUltramarathon14 JunePietermaritzburg to Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
Volkswagen SA Open of SurfingSurfingJune 13 – 17Pipe/Pollock Beach, Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape
1st Test South Africa & ScotlandRugbyJuly 4Venue to be confirmed
Vodacom Durban JulyHorse racingJuly 4Greyville Racecourse, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal – one of South Africa’s premier horse races
Berg River Canoe MarathonCanoe marathonJuly 8-11Berg River, Paarl to Velddrif, Western Cape
2nd Test South Africa & ScotlandRugbyJuly 8Venue to be confirmed
Corona Open J-Bay 2020SurfingJuly 17-19Part of the world Men’s Surfing Championship Tour 2020 at Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape
Test South Africa & GeorgiaRugbyJuly 18Venue to be confirmed
Red Bull Big Wave AfricaSurfingJuly / AugustAt Dungeons, Hout Bay, Cape Town where the world’s top big wave riders take on the might of the monstrous waves that arrive here once a year all the way from the South Atlantic.
Shaun Tomson Durban Surf Challenge – In Memory of Ernie TomsonSurfingSeptember 4 – 6New Pier, Durban, South Africa
Fish River Canoe MarathonCanoe marathonSept 25-26Fish River, Cradock, Eastern Cape
Bafana / Sao Tome football internationalSoccerSeptemberThe second leg of an Afcon qualifier to be played in South Africa
Cape Town MarathonMarathon raceOctober 18Cape Town, Western Cape
Soweto MarathonMarathon raceNovember 1Soweto, Johannesburg, Gauteng
Nedbank Golf ChallengeGolfNovember 12-15Held at the Gary Player Country Club, Sun City, North West, it is part of the Rolex Series on the European Tour and is the penultimate event on the Race to Dubai.
Ultra-Trail Cape TownTrail raceNovember 28-29Four trail races of 100km, 65km, 35km and 21km that traverse the mountains of the Cape Peninsula as part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour
Alfred Dunhill ChampionshipGolfNovember / DecemberLeopard Creek Country Club, Malalane, Mpumalanga – part of Sunshine and European Tours
Roof of AfricaEndurance racing (motorcycles & cars)November 18-21Sani Pass and other parts of Lesotho
The Sun MetHorse racingJanuary/February 2021Another premier horse racing event run in Cape Town, Western Cape
Red Bull Kiteboarding InternationalKiteboardingJanuary/February 2021The 2020 Red Bull King of the Air international kiteboarding event has just ended at Table View, Cape Town – the city hosts an international kiteboarding event each year
Rugby Sevens World CupRugby2022South Africa
Netball World CupNetball2023South Africa

These sports events are just a sample of what will be on offer around South Africa this year and beyond. There are many other events in other sports codes that take place around the country each year. Go online to the South African websites of your favourite sports codes to see more of what will be happening in South Africa this year. Happy travels and may the best team/person win!