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Dodging the Football Frenzy and Tackling Alternative Sporting Events in Africa

  • Natasha Robinson
  • 22 May 2010

You’d have to be holed up in Ted Kaczynski’s cabin not to know that South Africa will be hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup next month. The Beautiful Game has a special place in all Africans’ hearts and is far and away the most popular sport played on the continent. But with football mania reaching fever pitch, it’s high time we had a look at some of the other sporting events on offer in Africa.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

No place on earth conjures up visions of teeming, exotic wildlife quite like the African continent, so it’s only fitting that the local fauna should sometimes be allowed to join in the fun too. The Safaricom Marathon takes place in June at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya and is famous for being the only race in the world where you get to run up against the local inhabitants. Despite cosy quarters with the Big Five, there have so far been no reports of animal attacks and experienced rangers patrol the circuit with the help of a spotter plane to make sure participants don’t end up as lunch.

The harsh terrain, high altitude and relentless equatorial sun make Kenya's 26-mile Safaricom Marathon particularly popular with professionals

The harsh terrain, high altitude and relentless equatorial sun make Kenya's 26-mile Safaricom Marathon particularly popular with professionals. One thousand runners from 20 countries have already signed themselves up for the 2010 event.

The event, which Runner’s World magazine described as “One of the top ten races to run in your life,” was set up to provide much-needed funding for wildlife conservation and community development projects across Kenya. It has so far raised over US$2 million, which has gone a long way to achieving the organisers’ goals of “using wildlife conservation as a catalyst to alleviate poverty, reduce conflict, and improve education and livelihoods in rural areas rich in biodiversity.”

Rally-ho!

Sticking with Kenya, the Rhino Charge – held deep in the bush at a different location each year – raises money for wildlife conservation in Aberdare National Park, home of the endangered black rhino. This annual off-road 4×4 rally is wildly popular with car lovers from all over the world, eager to test their mettle on the gruelling trail.

Going strong in Kenya since 1989, Rhino Charge is an exciting competition that requires a high level of skill in off-road driving and navigation

Going strong in Kenya since 1989, Rhino Charge is an exciting competition that requires a high level of skill in off-road driving and navigation

Rocks, rivers, ravines, hills, wildlife and countless other obstacles all conspire to make the rally as tricky as possible and few will stay the course. That does not seem to deter the many competitors, though, and last year a record of 48 teams raised a total of over 64 million Kenyan shillings (US$807,300). Rhino Ark, the event’s charity organisers, plan to use the money on construction of an electric perimeter fence for the park.

Monkey Business

Uganda has its own rally in the form of the 4×4 Chimp Challenge, near Kampala. Competitors try their driving luck at a skills trial, relay race, mud run, balance beam and a blindfolded trial. There are also plenty of activities for those too small to see over the steering wheel!

The balance beam is just one of many tests of skill facing competitors in Uganda's 4x4 Chimp Challenge

The balance beam is just one of many tests of skill facing competitors in Uganda's 4x4 Chimp Challenge

“Participants’ approaches range from the quietly confident to the wildly exuberant with varying degrees of success, which all makes for a great day out,” says Patrick Shah, who, as a keen off-roader and the owner of The Far Horizon travel company, the whl.travel local connection for Uganda, has first-hand experience of the event.

As the name suggests, the event aims to raise money for Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, on Lake Victoria, which cares for chimps rescued and confiscated in Uganda.

Kidding Around

Described as ‘East Africa’s premier social occasion,’ the Royal Ascot Goat Races is Uganda’s answer to the pomp and silly-hat-wearing splendour of Britain’s own Royal Ascot, but without the horses, Their Royal Highnesses or a bevy of C-list British celebrities.

A great excuse to get dolled up in all your finery, Kampala's Royal Ascot Goat Races are a big hit on Uganda's social scene

A great excuse to get dolled up in all your finery, Kampala's Royal Ascot Goat Races are a big hit on Uganda's social scene

Started as a fundraiser for Entebbe Sailing Club in 1993, the race was so popular that it has since developed into a huge international event that attracts thousands and raises millions of Ugandan shillings for local charities. Its popularity is such that similar events are now held in Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) and Nairobi (Kenya).

Mollusc Mania

In addition to its newfound fame as a footie mecca, South Africa also has a well-deserved reputation as one of the sportiest nations on the continent. The annual 10-day Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival in July is one of the Garden Route‘s most popular events with around 65,000 visitors and a great fun-for- the-whole-family vibe, equally loved by sporty types, gourmands or those just looking to let off a little steam.

The ancient, indigenous forests of Knysna make the Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour a particularly scenic and popular race in South Africa

The ancient, indigenous forests of Knysna make the Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour a particularly scenic and popular race in South Africa

Currently in its 27th year, it is more than just a celebration of the famous Knysna oyster; it’s an opportunity for paddling, angling, soccer, night biking, bowls, rugby, adventure races and golf. The main attractions are the Pick n Pay Cape Times Knysna Forest Marathon and the two-day Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour through the beautiful local forests, which have become popular with amateurs and professionals alike. So even if you’re not a fan of molluscs, there’s still plenty to get your muscles a movin’!

Wacky Races

The whl.travel local connection for Swaziland, Darron Raw of Swazi Trails, also organises an adrenaline-fuelled event known as the Swazi Xtreme held yearly in August. Described as having a “a proud tradition of challenging competitors with race routes that incorporate awesome natural features, friendly rural people and an atmosphere of risk and reward,” the adventure race has become a big hit garnering plenty of media coverage.

Giving something back to the communities through which the competitors pass is a key concern and local accommodations, staff and facilities are used wherever possible. A successful sponsorship partnership with a major food company even provided three local primary schools with food for a year – definitely not something to be sniffed at!

And Finally, Something for the Masochists…

As the toughest foot race on earth, the Marathon des Sables has a fearsome reputation for making grown men weep. Taking place in Morocco’s scorching, wind-swept Sahara Desert – where midday temperatures reach 48 degrees Celsius – this six-day endurance race covers 243km, or roughly a marathon a day. Runners have to lug all of their kit except for water, which is strictly rationed, so you can see why a penchant for pain is a prerequisite.

Runners on the gruelling Marathon des Sables in Morocco's Sahara Desert

Temperatures can soar to 48 degrees Celsius and sand storms are par for the course on the gruelling Marathon des Sables in Morocco's Sahara Desert (courtesy of Flickr/USACE Europe District)

It’s not all blood, sweat, tears and festering blisters, though. The stark desert scenery is absolutely breathtaking and the camaraderie amongst the participants makes it the experience of a lifetime. But if you fancy a little self-punishment you’ll have to get to the back of the line. Believe it or not, there’s currently a three-year waiting list!

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adventure travel, Africa, animal conservation, deserts, festivals & events, forests & jungles, game reserves, human interests, Kenya, Morocco, outdoors, responsible travel, responsible travel news, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda,

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