Sporting boycott of South Africa during the apartheid era

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South Africa under apartheid was subjected to a variety of international boycotts, including on sporting contacts. There was some debate about whether the aim of the boycott was to end segregation in sport, or to end apartheid together.[1]

United Nations[edit]

In 1980, the United Nations began compiling a "Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa".[2] This was a list of sportspeople and officials who had participated in events within South Africa.[2] It was compiled mainly from reports in South African newspapers.[2] Being listed did not itself result in any punishment, but was regarded as a moral pressure on athletes.[2] Some sports bodies would discipline athletes based on the register.[2] Athletes could have their names deleted from the register by giving a written undertaking not to return to apartheid South Africa to compete.[2] The register is regarded as having been an effective instrument.[1][3][4]

The UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention against Apartheid in Sports on 10 December 1985.[5]

Olympic Games[edit]

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) withdrew its invitation to South Africa to the 1964 Summer Olympics when interior minister Jan de Klerk insisted the team would not be racially integrated.[6] In 1968, the IOC was prepared to readmit South Africa after assurances that its team would be multi-racial; but a threatened boycott by African nations and others forestalled this.[7] The South African Games of 1969 and 1973 were intended to allow Olympic-level competition for South Africans against foreign athletes. South Africa was formally expelled from the IOC in 1970.[8]

In 1976, African nations demanded that New Zealand be suspended by the IOC for continued contacts with South Africa, including a tour by the New Zealand national rugby union team. When the IOC refused, the African teams withdrew from the games.[9] This contributed to the Gleneagles Agreement being adopted by the Commonwealth in 1977.[10]

The IOC adopted a declaration against "apartheid in sport" on 21 June 1988, for the total isolation of apartheid sport.[3]

Commonwealth Games[edit]

The 1934 British Empire Games, originally awarded in 1930 to Johannesburg, was moved to London after the (pre-apartheid) South Africa government refused to allow nonwhite participants.[11] South Africa continued to participate in every Games until it left the Commonwealth in 1961.[12][13] The Thatcher government's refusal to enforce the Gleneagles Agreement in the UK led Nigeria to initiate a boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, from which 32 of 59 eligible teams withdrew.[14]


The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs many North American university sports, permitted South Africans to receive athletic scholarships and compete in its events.[15] Most such student athletes were white; one exception was runner Sydney Maree, who later became a U.S. citizen.[15]

By sport[edit]

The extent of boycotting varied between different sports, in the degree of contact permitted and the severity of punishment of "rebels" who defied the sanctions. This reflected the different political and social composition of each sport's governing international federation (IF).


In track and field athletics, a motion to suspend South Africa from the IAAF was defeated in 1966,[16] but had been passed by 1970.[17] Zola Budd's time for the women's 5,000m in January 1984 was not ratified as a world record because it was outside the auspices of the IAAF.[18]


In the 1970 Chess Olympiad, a number of players and teams protested against South Africa's inclusion, some withdrawing themselves, and the Albanian team forfeited its match against the South African team. South Africa was expelled from FIDE while participating in the 1974 Chess Olympiad, finally returning to international competition in the 1992 Chess Olympiad.


Cricket had been organised on racial lines in South Africa from its earliest days with the coloured cricketer Krom Hendricks excluded from provincial and national teams from the 1890s. However, the cricketing boycott was prompted by the reaction of the South African authorities to the selection of Basil D'Oliveira, a "Cape Coloured" South African, for the England national cricket team in 1968;[19] see the D'Oliveira affair. The 1970 South African tour of England was called off and replaced by a "Rest of the World" tour featuring several South African players. The International Cricket Conference (ICC) imposed a moratorium on tours in 1970.[17] There were several private tours in the 1970s and "rebel" tours in the 1980s. Participants in the latter were banned by their national federations upon returning. World Series Cricket, run outside the auspices of the ICC in 1977–79, included South African players in its "Rest of the World" team.


In the World Cup, the Greek government banned South Africa from the 1979 competition in Athens. South Africa competed in the 1980 edition in Bogotá. The prospect of their appearing in the 1981 edition, due to be staged at Waterville in Ireland, caused it to be cancelled. South Africa did not reappear until the post-apartheid era in 1992.[20]

South African golfers continued to play around the world, including PGA Tour, European Tour, and Grand Slam events. Outside golfers competed freely in South African Tour events. The Million Dollar Challenge at the Sun City resort regularly attracted some of the world's top golfers. The Official World Golf Ranking included South African Tour events in its calculations from its instigation in 1986.[21]


South African Jody Scheckter was the 1979 Formula One champion. The South African Formula One Grand Prix and the South African motorcycle Grand Prix were held in 1985 for the final time until the end of apartheid. Various teams boycotted the 1985 Formula One race, some teams in this international motorsport boycotting as part of pressure from their own governments, as part of the mounting pressure against apartheid.

Rugby union[edit]

South Africa remained a member of the International Rugby Board (IRB) throughout the apartheid era. Halt All Racist Tours was established in New Zealand in 1969 to oppose continued tours to and from South Africa. Apartheid South Africa's last foreign tour was to New Zealand in 1981. This tour was highly controversial due to the difference of opinions. Though contacts were restricted after the Gleneagles Agreement in 1977, there were controversial tours in 1980 by the British Lions and by France, in 1981 by Ireland, and in 1984 by England. In 1986, though a Lions tour was cancelled, South Africans played in all-star matches in Cardiff and in London marking the IRB centenary.[22] South Africa was excluded from the first two Rugby World Cups, in 1987 and 1991.

Association Football[edit]

South Africa was suspended from FIFA in 1963. Stanley Rous, FIFA's President, went to negotiate its reinstatement. The South African FA proposed entering an all-white team in the 1966 World Cup and an all-black team in the 1970 World Cup. This proposal was rejected.[8]

Table tennis[edit]

The South African Table Tennis Board (SATTB), a body founded in contravention to the white South African table tennis board, was substituted for the latter by the International Table Tennis Federation. While the SATTB team was able to participate in the world championships held in Stockholm in 1957, team members were immediately refused passports by the government. It ruled that no black could compete internationally except through the white sports body.


The South Africa Davis Cup team was ejected from the 1970 Davis Cup, in part thanks to campaigning by Arthur Ashe. It was reinstated in 1973 but placed in the Americas Zone instead of the Europe Zone where other African countries played. It won the 1974 Davis Cup after India refused to travel to South Africa for the final. There were protests at its matches in the United States in 1977 and 1978.[23][24][25] In 1977 several countries threatened to withdraw, and in 1978 several did withdraw in protest.[26] In 1979 South Africa was banned again.[27]

The South Africa women's team participated in the Federation Cup (now Fed Cup) through to 1977. It hosted and won the 1972 edition in Johannesburg.

William Hester, the president of the United States Tennis Association, decided to let a tournament between the United States and South Africa take place in Newport Beach, California in April 1977 in spite of backlash from African nations and protesters due to the apartheid regime.[23][24] When protesters ran on the court during the match, Tony Trabert, the U.S. manager, "hit two protestors with a racket" according to The Washington Post.[24] Hester also let another Davis Cup tournament take place at Vanderbilt University's Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee in March 1978 despite protests from civil rights leaders.[24] Hester explained, "We do not support or agree with the apartheid policy of the South African government .... But we have entered the draw and, unfortunately, we have to play South Africa - and in the United States."[24] Meanwhile, Joseph E. Carrico, the USTA's first vice president at the time and later president, blamed the low attendance on negative stories published by The Tennessean, even after a reporter was escorted out of the gym by the police.[25] According to The New York Times, the event included "more police (150) than protesters (40) outside the gym."[25]

South African players continued to compete on the pro tours; Johan Kriek and Kevin Curren reached Grand Slam finals, though both later became naturalised US citizens.

Foreign eligibility[edit]

Some elite South African sportspeople competed internationally for another country, after becoming eligible through naturalization, length of residency, or other criteria applicable by the relevant IF. Examples include runner Zola Budd, whose UK nationality application was fast-tracked in time for the 1984 Summer Olympics;[28] and cricketer Kepler Wessels, who acquired Australian eligibility in the 1980s through residency, before returning to South Africa, for whom he played after the end of apartheid.[29] The 1994 film Muriel's Wedding recounts a fictional 1980s Australian's sham marriage to a South African swimmer seeking Olympic eligibility.[29]

End of apartheid[edit]

With the end of apartheid, sports rapidly ended their boycotts and South Africa was readmitted in the International sports federations. The European Community announced its member governments' ending of the boycott in June 1991.[30] India, which vehemently opposed South Africa's apartheid policy and was at the forefront of isolating the country internationally at all levels, ended its boycott in 1991 by inviting the South African cricket team to the country for an ODI series and subsequently allowed the Indian cricket team to tour South Africa for a Test and ODI series in late 1992. The country's hosting and winning of the 1995 Rugby World Cup was a powerful boost to post-apartheid South Africa's return to the international sporting scene.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Booth, Douglas (2003). "Hitting Apartheid for Six? The Politics of the South African Sports Boycott". Journal of Contemporary History. 38 (3): 477–493. doi:10.1177/0022009403038003008. S2CID 145730533.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Rogers, Thomas (15 April 1988). "U.N. Reports Contacts With South Africa". New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  3. ^ a b Reddy, E.S. "Sports and the liberation struggle: a Tribute to Sam Ramsamy and others who fought apartheid sport". Gandhi-Luthuli documentation centre. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  4. ^ "Boycott Blues". Time. 30 March 1981. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  5. ^ "International Convention Against Apartheid in Sports". Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 10 December 1985. Archived from the original on 27 March 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  6. ^ Booth, Douglas (1998). The Race Game: Sport and Politics in South Africa. Routledge. p. 88. ISBN 0-7146-4799-3.
  7. ^ "Boycotting South Africa". Time. 8 March 1968. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  8. ^ a b auf der Heyde, Peter (16 January 2007). "Apartheid: The political influence of sport". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  9. ^ "On This Day 17 July 1976". 17 July 1976. Retrieved 17 January 2007.
  10. ^ Watters, Steve. "From Montreal to Gleneagles". Retrieved 14 June 2008.
  11. ^ Gorman, Daniel (31 July 2012). The Emergence of International Society in the 1920s. Cambridge University Press. p. 170. ISBN 9781107021136. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  12. ^ "South Africa - Medals Tally by Games". Commonwealth Countries - Results by Games. Commonwealth Games Federation. Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  13. ^ "South Africa". Commonwealth Countries - Introduction. Commonwealth Games Federation. Archived from the original on 25 January 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  14. ^ Downes, Aviston D. (2002). "Sport and International Diplomacy: The Case of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the Anti-Apartheid Campaign, 1959–1992". The Sports Historian. 22 (2): 23–45. doi:10.1080/17460260209443382. ISSN 1351-5462. S2CID 145152124.; Seidel, Gill (1988). "'We condemn apartheid, BUT …': a discursive analysis of the European Parliamentary debate on sanctions (July 1986)1". The Sociological Review. 36 (S1): 222–249. doi:10.1111/j.1467-954X.1988.tb03333.x. ISSN 0038-0261. S2CID 145118176.; Booth, Douglas (1995). "Sports Policy in Australia: Right, Just and Rational?". The Australian Quarterly. 67 (1): 1–10: 3. doi:10.2307/20635800. ISSN 0005-0091. JSTOR 20635800.
  15. ^ a b Bale, John (1991). "Interpreting the Brawn Drain; The South African connection". The Brawn Drain: Foreign Student-athletes in American Universities. University of Illinois Press. pp. 195–6. ISBN 9780252017322. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  16. ^ Booth (1998), p.87
  17. ^ a b Booth (1998), p.99
  18. ^ Bale, John (2004). Running Cultures: Racing in Time and Space. Routledge. p. 141. ISBN 0-7146-5535-X.
  19. ^ Booth (1998)
  20. ^ Gilleece, Dermot (3 December 2006). "Irish duo set World Cup record". Irish Independent. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  21. ^ Greer, Tony (6 April 1986). "First issue of Sony rankings" (PDF). Royal and Ancient Golf Club. Retrieved 23 November 2008.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Starmer-Smith, Nigel (1986). Rugby - A Way of Life, An Illustrated History of Rugby. Lennard Books. p. 186. ISBN 0-7126-2662-X.
  23. ^ a b Amdur, Neil (20 March 1977). "Deep South's Slew Hester: A Canny Tennis Maverick". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  24. ^ a b c d e Lorge, Barry (1 February 1978). "USTA: No Choice On Davis Clash With S. Africa". The Washington Post. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  25. ^ a b c Amdur, Neil (20 March 1978). "U.S. Davis Cup Team Beats South Africa". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  26. ^ "U.S. withdraws from Davis Cup". The Deseret News. 1 July 1976. p. 24.
  27. ^ "South Africa Expelled from Cup Play". Toledo Blade. 17 April 1978. p. 11.
  28. ^ Hardman, Alan R.; Iorwerth, Hywel (2012). "Sport, patriotism, and the Olympic Games". In Reid, Heather Lynne; Austin, Michael W. (eds.). The Olympics and Philosophy. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 256–272: 256. ISBN 9780813136486. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  29. ^ a b Farred, Grant (2000). Midfielder's Moment: Coloured Literature and Culture in Contemporary South Africa. Westview Press. p. 139. ISBN 9780813335148.
  30. ^ Associated Press (30 June 1991). "Europeans Lift South Africa Sports Boycott". New York Times. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  31. ^ Thakur, Ramesh (May–June 2004). "India vs. Pakistan in a tense test of cricket diplomacy". UNU newsletter. United Nations University. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dancing on Our Bones: New Zealand, South Africa, Rugby and Racism by Trevor Richards (Bridget Williams Books, 1999). The author was one of a small group of people who founded Halt All Racist Tours (HART) in Auckland in 1969 and worked for the organisation for many years, serving as chair (1969–1980) and international secretary (1980–1985).

External links[edit]