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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 7. 1965.

Keep Them Apart: Sports and Politics

Keep Them Apart: Sports and Politics

Fairly soon we are to be visited by a South African rugby team. A proportion of the community have protested against this tour on the grounds that "South Africa has a colour bar and we shouldn't have anything to do with such a country." These protests have been countered with the accusation that "boycotting the Springboks is bringing politics into sport." Neither of these statements are logical, nor are they in the best interests of sport.

Strictly speaking, sport is "the practice of skilful recreation." But sport has come to mean much more than that. The idea of fair play is a fundamental tenet of sport, and so is the idea that anybody can participate in sport regardless of country, colour or creed. The idea of respect for your opponent comes into it, and so does the idea that sport can provide a common meeting ground for people of different ways of life.

The influence of sport is wide. Sports news is assiduously reported in the daily press and is probably read more than international news. Prominent sportsmen become national or even international figures. The holding of an Olympic games is much sought after, even though the cost may be phenomenal, because of the prestige thus conferred upon a city. It is not surprising that politicians have seized upon sport as a means of promoting their own policies.

A case in point was the Fourth Asian Games held in Djakarta, Indonesia. Because of political pressure from the Indonesian Government neither Israel nor Formosa were invited to take part. As well as this, the games had a political label attached—Games of the New Emergent Forces, or Ganefo. The final result was that the International Olympic Council suspended Indonesia indefinitely—a suspension that carried over to the Tokio Olympics— for violation of the Olympic Charter, which forbids discrimination against any country or persons for racial, religious or political reasons.

Another country under suspension by the IOC was South Africa. The reason was violation of the same part of the Olympic Charter—i.e., that in the selection of South African Olympic teams people of a certain racial background had been discriminated against.

The organisation of sport in South Africa is rather complex. A fairly objective description is given by Richard Thompson in his book "Race and Sport," published by the Oxford University Press. Briefly, sport is run along strictly racial lines, and for each sport there exists a white association and a non-white association. This follows the Government policy of Apartheid, of separate development for white and non-white. No inter-racial sport is allowed, no meeting of Bantu and European on the field of sport. Thus sport is not providing "the common meeting ground" and a chance for racial harmony.

It is the policy of international sports federations to have only one affiliated association per country. In South Africa this has meant that, in general, only the white associations are affiliated and that non-whites cannot compete in international sport, with the result that non-whites are in effect discriminated against. There have been exceptions—the International Table Tennis withdrew recognition of the white body and affiliated the non-racial organisation. The South African Government has since refused passports to table tennis teams wishing to compete overseas.

White South Africans say "the coloureds are not up to international standard anyway." This is probably true in most cases— for although non-whites outnumber whites 5 to 1, they have only a few athletic and cycling tracks, virtually no adequate gymnasium facilities, and a handful of swimming baths in all of South Africa.

The question is should New Zealand sportsmen concern themselves with the South African sporting situation, and, if so, what should they do?

Well, if the IOC, a body that is not subject to political pressure, decides that South Africa should not be allowed to participate in an Olympic Games—and such a decision would not have been reached lightly—then it is obviously the concern of all sportsmen, and in particular New Zealanders, who have close sporting ties with South Africa. If New Zealanders believe in the ideals of sport as formulated at the beginning of this article, then they must do what they can to change the present unidealistic atmosphere that prevails in South Africa.

As to what we should do—accept the coming Springbok side, for we have no choice, but show our disapproval of their sporting set-up by boycotting their matches. No sportsmen would wish to offend a bunch of young men concerned only with playing rugby—but this is the most concrete way of reminding the South African Government that the ideals of sport transcend politics.