New Internationalist

What price fair play?

Issue 87

Keep politics out of sport’. That’s the argument which campaigns against sporting links with South Africa have had to fight. But now the Moscow Olympics have made sports’ boycotts fair game. Will this help the opponents of sporting apartheid or is it just political double-think? Bob Hawkins in Australia looks at government response to campaigns against racism in sport.

White South African cricket star Eddie Barlow tells us ‘nothing much has changed’. Nothing has yet lightened the white-imposed darkness at the bottom of Africa.

Nothing much’. But there has been some change. The Pretoria Government has stepped up cosmetic changes and now places advertisements designed to fool foreigners into thinking it is de-racialising sport. A decade ago Pretoria would have laughed at the world and challenged it to do its damnedest. Today it’s different. Long isolation from international sport has built up a head of frustration. Pretoria is being forced to seek safety valves in spite of its basic determination that the grand designs of apartheid should not be undermined.

None of this could have happened if it hadn’t been for the efforts of groups like Britain’s START (Stop All Racist Tours), New Zealand’s HART (Halt All Racial Tours), and Australia’s CARE (Campaign Against Racial Exploitation). Together with the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa, the Durban-based South African Council on Sport, and scores of organisations in other countries, they are dedicated to the destruction of apartheid.

Gains to date have been minimal. The activities of the seventies were belatedly given a shot in the arm by the Commonwealth’s 1977 Gleneagles Agreement which lent an equivocal degree of government support. But earlier campaigns have proved that sporting boycotts, sanctions, and outright ostracism can work. For this reason alone, to relax the pressure now - as some Western governments would obviously like to - would be to let Pretoria off the hook.

But with some progress made the going will not get any easier. Particularly with the present UK, Australian and New Zealand governments giving only luke­warm backing to the notion that racism is indecent.

Pallid friends of South Africa’s all­white rugby team, the Springboks, abound, And they’re nowhere so thick on the ground as in those two other white antipodean bastions, New Zealand and Australia. It is easy to believe that had population ratios in these two countries turned out along South African lines, today non-racial sporting unions around the globe would be battling to keep an apartheid trio off international sports arenas. But in neither country does a minority black population pose a threat to white dominance of sport. So, all is ‘equal’ - and all is acceptable in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee and the various other world sporting bodies.

So strong in New Zealand is the support for sporting contacts with South Africa that the very stability of the National Party government is threatened - and this on the admission of one of its Ministers.

Ben Couch, New Zealand’s Minister of Maori Affairs, would like to see the Springboks tour New Zealand in 1981. According to the Wellington Evening Post, Couch has warned against government interference on the questions of sporting contacts between New Zealand and South Africa. He said that interference could jeopardise the ruling National Party and that it would threaten individual freedoms. He evidently was not referring to the individual freedoms of South Africa’s 20-million blacks.

"Far less than 1 % of the total sport activities in South Africa are integrated."
A.1. Vlok - National Party M.P. - Parliamentary Debates 21 May 1979

Any sports match in South Africa which includes black and white players is called ‘multi-national’ and needs a special Government permit to allow the ‘blacks’ to occupy a field in a white ‘Group Area’. Another permit would be required to allow ‘mixed drinking’ after such a event.

Not a single law of apartheid affecting the playing of mixed sport has been changed. Mixed sporting events are still very rare exceptions. And ‘exceptions’-, said South Africa’s Minister of Sport in May 1979, ‘must be dealt with in such a way that they do not, in fact, become the rule’.

If New Zealand is the weakest spot in the anti-apartheid world, it is also the home of HART, which Peter Hain last year described as ‘the leading force internationally among all the national organisations struggling to defeat sports apartheid’. In the months ahead HART will continue to campaign vigorously for the cancellation of the 1981 Springbok tour.

It can’t expect much support from the Robert Muldoon government. Mr. Muldoon boasts he has never yet even replied to a letter from HART. He has accused it of treason and called its chairman, Trevor Richards, a traitor.

But, back in 1973, HART fought the NZ Rugby Football Union to a standstill and on April 10 of that year the government cancelled plans for a Springbok tour. That’s the date in 1981 which HART has set as C-Day - Cancellation Day - for next year’s tour.

In Australia there’s somewhat more cohesion in government ranks. No doubt, privately, a majority of Liberal-National coalition members would prefer a free hand on sporting contacts with South Africa. But since coming to power Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has had to make his policy more respectable.

Now Australian foreign affairs spokesmen will put it this way: unless there is ‘clearly and demonstrably’ integration on and off the field there will be no contact with South African teams in Australia. Individuals will be treated on a case by case basis. But nothing can be done to stop teams or individuals who wish to go to South Africa to compete, even though Australia regards apartheid as ‘abhorrent and unacceptable’.

Equivocal, but not bad for a Prime Minister who just before his appointment in November 1975 had invited apartheid supporters to come to Australia to give their views. At the same time Mr. Fraser attacked the then Labor government’s support for international ostracism of South Africa - and drew thunderous applause from Liberal and National MPs.

Now while Gary Player, South Africa’s peripatetic golfing pro, is free to blast his way up Australian fairways, Mr. Fraser has been as shrill as Maggie Thatcher in his urging of Australian athletes to forego their freedom to compete in Moscow. Hardly consistent. But why the sudden willingness amongst conservative politicians to use sport as a political weapon? In the past they have always said ‘don’t mix sport with politics.’ Maybe sports boycotts are only favoured when it suits their political interests? Losing Russian gold medals is one thing, but losing South African gold bullion is another.

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