cricket controversy in South Africa: 1969-1991
The degree to which international sporting events should be affected by politics is controversial. For example, the decision of the United States not to attend the Olympics in 1980 in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is often cited as one of America’s most ineffective actions during the Cold War. Its main impact was upon American as well as other international athletes who had worked their entire lives to hone their physical perfection for that moment in time, rather than the oppressive and threatening government of the U.S.S.R. Furthermore, sport is supposed to be a great uniting force between peoples, regardless of the differences of their governments, rather than a vehicle of government protest.
However, perhaps the most controversial action that blended politics and sport was the enforced isolation of South African athletes from most international competitions until the end of the apartheid regime. South Africa was expelled from the British Commonwealth in 1961 and subsequently “excluded from sporting events and subjected to trade sanctions in the 1970s and 1980s” (BBC News, 2009). The South African system only began to show signs of unraveling in 1985, when non-whites won limited constitutional rights and interracial marriage was permitted (BBC News, 2009). The sport of cricket, beloved by almost all Commonwealth countries, excluded South Africa from participation in test matches until the end of black disenfranchisement in 1970. The exclusion from cricket test matches was ended in 1991 when newly elected President F.W. de Klerk repealed all apartheid laws.
The ban formally began in May of 1970, when the Cricket Council reversed its decision to allow South African cricketers to tour England after pressure from the Labour Home Secretary, James Callaghan. The Council Secretary said there had been a “formal request from Her Majesty’s Government to withdraw the invitation to the South African touring team” (BBC News, 2009). Originally, the Cricket Council was going to allow the South African team to compete, but African and Asian countries threatened to boycott the Commonwealth Games if the tour was permitted to progress. British human rights groups had also threatened to protest the inclusion of South Africa on the tour. The Stop The Seventy Tour campaign said it would disrupt any matches played during the tour in which South Africa was a competitor and praised the Labour government for pressuring the Cricket Council to yield to the activist’s demands.
A ban upon South African international competition in sport, it was hoped, would be particularly effective in changing the racist policies of the nation. It was often said: “Sport is a religion in South Africaâ€¦South Africa is the most sports-mad country in the world” (Anderson et al. 2004).South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games in 1964 because it would only permit whites to represent the nation, on the grounds that only whites could become citizens. FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) suspended South Africa in 1960 and then finally expelled the national team from competition permanently in 1976. But the more rarefied sports of rugby and cricket were slower to react. These sports were often criticized by anti-apartheid activists within South Africa because unlike football, there were few examples of interracial play under apartheid, given the greater expense and the class as well as racial barriers that existed within these sports.
The end of apartheid has exhibited swift changes in South African cricket: recently, black African Makhaya Ntini recently participated in his historic 100th five-day test match for South Africa. Growing up under the apartheid regime, Ntini could only dream of being a shepherd, given that black Africans were prohibited from entering most recreational facilities. Until he was 15, Ntini was considered a “second-class human being,” now he is a legendary cricketer playing a celebrated 100th test match (Richards 2009). The rivalry between England and South Africa is one of the most closely-contested in all of sport: “Of the seven series played since South Africa’s return to world cricket in the early 1990s, two have been drawn and the other five won by a single match — two by England, three by South Africa” and Ntini proudly represented his nation (Richards 2009). He was able to do so, at least in part, because England was so vigilant in combing a strong human rights stance with a belief in good sportsmanship in cricket during the years of apartheid.
“1970: South Africa cricket tour called off.” BBC News. May 22. December 31, 2009.
Anderson, Connie M, Bielert, Troy A, & Jones, Ryan P. (2004). One country, one sport, endless knowledge: The anthropological study of sports in South
Africa. Anthropologica, 46(1), 47-55. Retrieved December 31, 2009, from Ethnic
NewsWatch (ENW). (Document ID: 702073431).
Richards, H. “A milestone for an emblem: Ntini to play 100th test when South Africa starts series against England.” International Herald Tribune, December 16, 2009.
http://www.proquest.com / (accessed December 31, 2009).
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