On This Day: South Africa banned from the Olympics

On This Day: South Africa banned from the Olympics

AUGUST 12, 1964: South African athletes were banned from the Tokyo Olympics on this day in 1964 following massive protests against the apartheid state’s white-only team.

The white minority-ruled country, which had refused to let members of the black majority compete, went on to be barred from all major sporting competitions.

It promised to send a multi-racial team to the 1968 Games in Mexico City – the requirement by the International Olympic Committee to end its suspension.

But a threatened boycott by chiefly fellow African states ensured that South Africa would not compete in an Olympics until after the end of Apartheid in 1994.

The 1970 decision to formally expel country from the IOC due to its racist laws marked the first major competition that South Africa was totally cut off from.

Protesters hoped isolation would particularly hit home with the country’s sports-mad Afrikaner white majority, in whose language apartheid means “separateness”.

Basil D’Oliveira, a mix-raced or “coloured” South African who went on to play cricket for England, helped the campaign after his presence in the side led to the 1968 tour to being cancelled.

He said: “We understood as South Africans the significance of sport for white South Africans. It was like a religion.

“If you then hit them hard on that, then you were really getting the message across that they were not welcome in the world as long as they practised racism in sport.”

Other campaigners hoped they might also end the daily system of codified racism in South Africa by preventing white-only sides from taking the field.

And the sport they really wanted to stop was rugby, the game most beloved by Afrikaners and one dominated internationally by the Springboks.

The 1969 and 1970 tour of Britain and Ireland was the first to face massive protests by predominantly white protesters.

A British Pathé newsreel covering the first match against Oxford University, which South Africa lost 6-3, filmed scores of arrests at Twickenham.

Over the years, protests became increasingly violent – forcing most of the major rugby nations to block South African tours.

New Zealand, which prior to 1971 had been banned from fielding Maoris in sides playing in South Africa, was the last country to host the visiting Springboks.

But the 1981 tour caused major riots and chaos in the usually peaceful, rugby-loving antipodean nation, which remains South Africa’s biggest rival.

South Africa was readmitted to international sport in 1993 after the apartheid laws had been dismantled and a timetable for the country’s first free elections was set.

As a reward, it hosted – and won – the 1995 rugby World Cup and returned to the Olympics with a racially mixed squad at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

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