The Effective Boycott of Apartheid Sports in South Africa
The institution of Apartheid would impose a set of harsh racialist policies in place to govern the people of South Africa. White colonialists established a rule of law which promoted active racial segregation well through the 1980s. It would be a formative force in Africa’s identity and in its political orientation. Perhaps equally as determinant of its culture is South Africa’s relationship to football and to a proud sporting tradition. The importance of this force would frequently manifest in its history as a forum for confrontation over issues of human rights abuse and racial segregation. It is thus that its sporting tradition would prove a perfect target of international efforts to bring about an end to the Apartheid.
That its involvement in sports would become a key pressure point for the international community is appropriate given the long-standing correlation between its sporting tradition and its struggle with racial discord. Accordingly, SAHO (2009) reports that “after the Second World War and the rise of apartheid, football’s mass popularity brought it into close contact with formal resistance politics. In the 1950s and 1960s, the daunting obstacles faced by African footballers in securing playing fields from hostile White authorities created a new space for contesting, negotiating, and shaping capitalist and colonial attempts to impose strict controls over workers’ lives.” (SAHO, 1)
Indeed, the segregation which permeated every part of the their lives had come to restrict participation in a sport which crucial ties to the culture and identity of African-originated citizens of South Africa. The restrictions which would come to apply in this context would be crucial because they would instigate a mode of action that was at first a matter of the practical desire to continue to pay and complete. This would ultimately become a battle for Civil Rights though, with the restrictions centering around integrated participation in such fundamentally important cultural touchstones as football fueling resistance and political organization. By preventing African sportsmen from playing locally or representing their country internationally, the leaders of Apartheid would disenfranchise citizens who viewed their teams and sporting associations as a context for support in acts of resistance.
It is thus that Reddy (1998) would observe the rising tide of organized anti-Apartheid action through the specific medium of sporting association. Accordingly, Reddy notes an early and immediate response to Apartheid through this channel. Reddy reports that “a Committee for International Recognition was formed by non-racial sportsmen in 1955 and was succeeded by the South African Sports Association (SASA) in 1958 and the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC) in 1963 – to fight against racism in sport and press for international recognition of the non-racial sports bodies in South Africa.” (Reddy, 1) Reddy would go on to report that the contingent would be constituted largely of black Africans and Indians transplanted by colonialist labor distribution to the South African republic.
The two ethnic groups formed a powerfully disaffected union aligned against racialist policy in sport, an effort that in the years to follow would move from a domestic to an international movement and, eventually, would even shift in its focus from the removal or racialist policy in sport to the intended dismantling of the racialist policies of the Apartheid in general.
In the face of both local and international pressure, however, the Apartheid remained entrenched in its ideology and its orientation toward its non-white citizens. Where the international community would come more largely to reflect the position of those aligned against Apartheid, the lives of those who rallied against the racial injustice from within would only increase in hardship. When in 1957 the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) determined only to accept the entry of the non-racial union constituted of Africans and Indians as the South Africa delegate, and simultaneously determined to exclude South Africa’s all-white team from participation, this would signal a sense amongst those in the anti-Apartheid movement that international support existed for their efforts. Furthermore, this appeared to evidence that international sporting representation was an optimal avenue through which to explore this possibility. (Reddy, 1)
Quite to the point, the response of the authorities in South Africa would be defiant and reactionary. It officially ceased providing passports for sporting organizations other than those representing the government of the Apartheid, signaling beyond any reasonable doubt that international pressure had only compelled it to intensify the strength of its segregation policies. (Reddy, 1) The Apartheid government would be driven by the intent not to be represented by a racial plurality in international sporting competition, a defiance which would not be lost on the world community. International sporting organizations would at this juncture become increasingly cognizant of the racial struggle that was playing out on the sporting fields of South Africa and demonstrated a clear sympathy for those who attempted to resist its racialist thrust.
The efforts of those movements unified against the Apartheid would invoke the clearest and most important of resolutions as anti-Apartheid activists and associations brought their complaint for the International Olympic Community. To its perspective, the invasion of segregation into its sporting tradition justified the exclusion of a South African contingent empowered by this very institution. Therefore, the members of South Africa’s non-racial teams “lobbied delegates at the meeting of the International Olympic Committee in Baden in October 1963 on behalf of SAN-ROC. The IOC adopted a proposal by India which led to the exclusion of South Africa from the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. It was formally expelled from the IOC in 1970.” (Reddy, 1)
This would be an important development not just in terms of expanding the visibility of the sporting boycott, but for further expanding the efforts that would ultimately dismantle the Apartheid government. In this decision, the IOC would reveal that the activists in South Africa were not alone in their disgust with or rejection of the validity of the Apartheid. And as it had done in the past, the South African government responded by intensifying its stranglehold on the lives of its non-white citizens. Harsher imposition of travel restrictions and legal harassment would greet the organized leaders of such important associations as the South African Sports Association (SASA) and the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SAN-ROC). A crackdown on the issuance of passports, the arrest of members of the resistance organizations and even the murder of those leaders who have involved themselves in more radical resistance and organization activities would demonstrate a South African government with little apparent intention of desegregating its sporting tradition.
International sympathies would run fairly high at this juncture, highlighted by Indian caddie Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum’s victory at the Natal Open Golf Championship. After claiming victory, “he was not allowed inside the clubhouse where whites were celebrating. The photograph of ‘Papwa’ receiving his trophy in heavy rain outside appeared in many newspapers around the world and greatly helped the boycott of apartheid sport. (He was banned from all major tournaments in South Africa after 1963.)” (Reddy, 1) However, his accomplishment and his ill-treatment would not go unnoticed by the world community, which gradually gained the momentum of support to go through with the 1970 ban of South Africa from Olympic sports.
Indeed, South Africa would help to encourage this type of external support for anti-Apartheid efforts by heightening its efforts at segregation. With each step taken internally toward diminishing the impact of segregation, the government would respond with further pressure. The success of the anti-Apartheid movement through the sporting world would help to engage the interest of those throughout the world community who, otherwise unwilling to intervene in the sovereign affairs of another nation, began to view with greater scrutiny the nation’s treatment of its sporting tradition. When in 1968 the South African government passed new and stronger restrictions that centered on segregation in the spectatorship of sports, the United Nations General Assembly officially took up the mantle as the lead force in advocating a boycott against participation with South African sporting leagues. It imposed pressure on other nations in the world community to enforce this ban. (Reddy, 1)
So is this demonstrated by a statement released by the African National Council (ANC) through the UN General Assembly in 1971, which would reveal in detail the ongoing struggle to the international community. Here would also be provided the rationale for the international community’s willingness to isolate the Apartheid government, with firm support for the rationality in using the sporting world as a way to garner the necessary attention. Here, the ANC would contend that “the moral position is absolutely clear. Human beings should not be willing partners in perpetuating a system of racial discrimination. Sportsmen have a special duty in this regard in that they should be first to insist that merit, and merit alone, be the criterion for selecting teams for representative sport. Indeed non-discrimination is such an essential part of true sportsmanship that many clubs and international bodies have express provisions to this effect. For example, the first fundamental principle of the Olympic Charter states: ‘No discrimination is allowed against any country or person on grounds of race, religion or political affiliation.'” (ANC, 1)
The statement goes further to make a crucial point with respect to our discussion. Namely, it confirms the philosophical relevance of using the sporting world as a way to gain international attention and reinforces the rationale that this approach to change would help to illuminate the broader racial struggles in South Africa. Quite indeed, the United Nations would take up the logic that any endorsement of the validity of all-white South African teams would amount to a tacit endorsement of a racially oppressive governmental regime. It is thus that through the avenue of international sporting association, the world community would denounce not just its segregation in its domestic and international sporting representation, but would go on to explicitly denounce the Apartheid and that which it stood for.
In the resolution, the larger part of the 1970s and 1980s would be devoted to an internal anti-Apartheid movement strengthened by the participation of chapters from all over the world. By the late 1980s, South Africa would be totally isolated in the sporting world, with its football teams and Olympic groups excluded from representing the nation. Certainly, this would not alone bring about the end of Apartheid but it would constitute a significant force of pressure upon the South African government, would help to isolate it culturally and would help to draw political and activist attention to policies of racial segregation that persisted through 1994 when more general resistance finally brought the monstrous policy and its supporting government to their knees. Today, a free and desegregated South Africa participates freely, proudly and according to its racial diversity in the world’s shared sporting tradition.
African National Council (ANC). (1971). International Boycott of Apartheid Sport. Anc.org.za. Online at http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/aam/abdul-2.html
Reddy, E.S. (1998). Sports and the Liberation Struggle: A Tribute To Sam Ramsamy and Others Who Fought Apartheid Sport. Gandhi-Luthuli Documentation Centre. Online at http://scnc.ukzn.ac.za/doc/SPORT/SPORTRAM.htm
SAHO. (2009). Football in South Africa — A History. Sahistory.org.za
Online at http://www.sahistory.org.za/pages/artsmediaculture/culture%20&%20heritage/sport/football-history.htm