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South African Sports and Numismatics

Pierre H. Nortje (July 2024)


The association between sports and numismatics dates back more than two thousand years to the ancient Greek and Roman world when some sporting events were depicted on coins.

Of the best examples are coins issued by Sicilian cities celebrating their ruler’s victories in the Olympic horse races with the four-horse chariot deemed the most prestigious event. On the following Syracusan Dekadrachma coin (479 BC) (picture below left) a chariot is shown, above which Nike, the goddess of victory, flies. The image below right shows a silver coin (370 BC) from Aspendos in present-day Turkey, depicting two sporting wrestlers.

Local Issues

The first South African Mint was established in Pretoria in 1892 for the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek while the Union of South Africa started minting coins in 1923. However, neither of these institutions issued any commemorative coins up to 1952 when the Union issued a silver crown (5-shillings) celebrating the landing of Jan van Riebeeck at the Cape in 1652 and eight years later a crown was struck for the 50th anniversary of the Union (1910-1960). Thus, when the Republic of South Africa was formed in 1961, only two commemorative coins had ever been issued locally and neither was related to sporting events. As we will see later in this paper, it was only many years later, in 1992, that sports were first celebrated on some of our local coinage.


The Early Years

Although no official coins depicting any sport were issued in South Africa during the 19th and most of the 20th century, many sporting prize medals and commemorative medallions were indeed struck by private companies and issued by sporting associations dating back to the second half of the 1800s. Sports like athletics, cycling, shooting and swimming were particularly popular locally in Victorian times while others, like rugby and hockey, were mostly ignored.

The following are four examples of Victorian-era prize medals issued in South Africa (from top left to bottom right) as follows: South African Wimbledon Challenge Shield rifle shooting medal awarded in 1884, South African Amateur Athletics Association Championship Award of 1898 for shot putting and Pietermaritzburg medals for swimming (1896) and cycling (1899).



The 20th Century

It seems like most sporting medals dating from the 19th century were prize medals with few, if any, medals commemorating a sport in general. This changed in Edwardian and later times with the following issue an early example commemorating the South African Rugby team, captained by Paul Roos, visit to Great Britain and Europe just after the turn of the 19th century.


Professor Laidlaw writes “The 1906–07 South Africa tour was a series of international games between South Africa and the home teams of Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales and France. The tour also included a number of regional matches. Out of a total of 29 matches, South Africa won 26, lost two and drew one. This was the inaugural South Africa tour, earning the 'Springboks' a formidable reputation internationally”.

Source: Rugby Relics

The 20th century saw a proliferation in South African sporting medals, both as prize awards and commemorative issues. Many events like provincial and international tours, world-class marathons like the Comrades and Two Oceans and both local and international sporting games resulted in the issuing of medals, and for the first time, the South African Mint got involved.


When for instance, South Africa, due to its policy of Apartheid was boycotted from the Olympic Games in 1964 in Tokyo, Japan, the South African Games were organized as an alternative for local athletes to compete with visiting international athletes. The following are examples of medals issued for the first and second games that were held in Johannesburg and Bloemfontein respectively. (South Africa was re-admitted to the International Olympic Games in 1992).



South African Coins Depicting Sporting Events


The first official South African coin commemorating a sporting event was the silver crown-sized R2 depicting the Olympic Games held in Barcelona in 1992. As a matter of interest, three South Africans won medals (silver) at the games being Elana Meyer for the 10 000 meters and Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval for the men’s tennis doubles. At the following Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, South Africa’s medal take included three in gold.


Source: Numista

During the last decade of the 20th century, only three other South African coins, all R2 crowns, were struck with sporting themes being the 1994 World Cup Soccer Tournament held in the United States, the 1995 World Cup Rugby tournament held locally (which South Africa won under the captaincy of Francois Pienaar) and the 1996 African Cup of Nations tournament with South Africa beating Tunisia 2-0 in the final held at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg.


Source: Numista

In the following picture, former President Nelson Mandela presents the William Webb Ellis Trophy to Francois Pienaar at the 1995 Rugby World Cup series held in South Africa.


Source: World Rugby

During the 21st century, other R2 crowns were struck commemorating sporting events being the issues for the run up to the World Soccer Tournament (FIFA) held in South Africa in 2010. The coins were issued each year from 2005 to 2010. A World Cup Rugby issue for 2011 was also produced. After 2020 the silver R2 Crown series was discontinued by the SA Mint.


For the silver R1 Protea series, only two sporting event coins were issued, the soccer Bafana-Bafana issue of 2002 and the Proteas cricket issue of 2003. These coins were struck as both proof and non-proof issues with the latter noticeably scarcer, and more valuable, than the former. The Protea R1, one of South Africa’s most collected coin series, was discontinued after 2019.


Source: Numista

Within the same years that the above two R1 coins were issued, 50c pieces depicting soccer and cricket were also produced. These coins are unique in two ways; not only were they the only South African sport-commemorating coins struck in a non-precious metal being bronze plated steel, but they were also issued for general circulation and not only as collector's pieces. The soccer coin was issued in 2002 and the cricket issue, depicting the legendary Jonty Rhodes, in both 2002 and 2003.


As a matter of interest, Rhodes was also shown on one of the medals (tokens) in the so-called Shoprite & Checkers Medal Collection depicting South African cricketers participating in the friendly tournament in India in 1992.

Source: Cricket Times

Other Coin Issues


The only other sports-themed coins the author is aware of were commemorative issues struck in gold by the South African Mint. These coins usually have very low mintage numbers and are seldom seen by the majority of collectors. They are of course also very expensive being all struck in either 22ct or 24ct gold. Here are examples: -

Gold R1 1/10th Oz fine gold

World Cup Soccer 2007

World Cup Soccer 2008

World Cup Soccer 2009

World Cup Soccer 2010


Also offered as a set as pictured left.


Source for pictures: Bobshop

Gold R2 ¼ Oz fine gold

World Cup Soccer 2005

World Cup Soccer 2006 (issued with and without Soccer City mintmark)

World Cup Soccer 2007

World Cup Soccer 2008

World Cup Soccer 2009 (issued with and without Durban stadium mintmark)

World Cup Soccer 2010

Gold R200 1 Oz fine gold

World Cup Soccer 2010 (issued with and without Greenpoint stadium mintmark)

Source: Numista

The Protea series in both 1/10th (R5) and 1 Oz (R25) fine gold


Soccer (Bafana Bafana) 2002 (pictured bottom right shows the 1 Oz R25 issue.)


Cricket World Cup 2003. The 1 Oz was issued with and without a mintmark (a cricket ball). The picture below left shows the 1/10th Oz R5 issue.

Source: Numista

Source MA Shops



In April 2024, Eyewitness News asked the question if there is a nation on the Earth more sports-mad than South Africa and answers “Probably not, suggests a new study by Eighty20 that reveals that around 75% of South Africans are interested in sports, with approximately 25 million actively participating

Source: Wikimedia Commons/Andrew Moore

The question follows why sporting themes are not more depicted on our coins?


Regarding coins struck for collectors, one could understand that for especially international collectors of our silver and gold issues, Southern Africa’s world-renowned fauna and flora may hold a bigger attraction than local sports. However, for the everyday circulating series, one would have thought that sporting themes would be more frequently featured, with sadly, the 50c pieces of 2003 and 2004 being the only issues ever struck by the South African Mint.


Who knows, with sports getting more exposure on our local coins and notes in everyday use, this might just attract more attention to our wonderful hobby of numismatics.  

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