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British citizens protest apartheid South African sports tours (Stop the Seventy Tour), 1969-1970
The world voiced its opposition to the National Party’s apartheid government ruling in South Africa in a new way in 1964. International sports tours and matches had become a focal point of cultural identity for whites in South Africa. Victories, to them, demonstrated a kind of symbolic power of white South Africa. White elite South Africa was considered “sports mad.” Once this became apparent to other countries in objection to the political state of South Africa, they found a way to use the situation to send a message. In 1964, South Africa was suspended from the International Olympic Committee and subsequently declined participation from the Tokyo Olympic games. After 1970 almost every South African sport had been isolated from all levels of international competition. However, the pride of the Afrikaners had yet to be diminished. Rugby became an important battleground for the anti-apartheid movement around the world.
In Great Britain, the “D’Oliveira Affair” brought the topic of sporting competition with South Africa to the foreground in 1967. The apartheid government had announced the inability of colored player Basil D’Oliveira to compete in the upcoming English cricket tour of South Africa against their all-white teams. Strong British opinion on the announcement came from two different groups of people. The first group supported competition with South Africa normally but were appalled at the attempt to impose apartheid laws on their own country. The second group was those in opposition of apartheid, generally political Leftists. As England canceled their tour in response to the announcement, opinion on sporting competition and apartheid splintered further throughout Great Britain.
The controversy soon returned in light of the 1969-1970 Springbok rugby tour of Great Britain. The Springboks were South Africa’s national rugby union team, made up entirely of Afrikaners and worshiped by the white ruling elite of South Africa. Once the tour was announced, the strongest opposition came from the political Left. The front-page article of the New Statesman read “Apartheid is not a game,” declaring that the tour should not go on. Defense of the rugby tour came generally from the political Right. An article written in The Spectator called attention to the fact that Great Britain competes with many other oppressive nations and no protests ensue.
Things began to really escalate, though, once a South African cricket tour of Great Britain was announced to take place in 1970, following the rugby tour. A sector of the British population was already upset about the approaching rugby tour, but with the “D’Oliveira Affair” still fresh in their minds, the idea of hosting a cricket tour for South Africa was an outrage. Those in opposition began to see the up-and-coming rugby tour as an opportunity to set the tone for the cricket tour. They would give the South African government, along with the British government, a preview of the resistance to come during the cricket tour with their actions during the rugby tour.
The overall campaign was a unique one because of it’s scattered participants. Different sectors of the British population got involved in the protest. Nineteen-year-old Peter Hain emerged as the chairman of the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign in Great Britain. As mentioned above, the campaign was treating the rugby tour as a dress rehearsal for the cricket tour. The ultimate goal was for a cancellation of the cricket tour due to the demonstrations carried out during the rugby tour. Hain had lived in South Africa up until his parents, anti-apartheid protestors, were expelled from the country because of their political activity. He got involved in anti-apartheid protests in Great Britain and was given the nickname “Hain the Pain” during his organizing in the 1969-70 Springbok tour. The Catholic Church in Great Britain was another force in the campaign against the rugby tour. The Church added legitimacy to the campaign. The most distinguished group acting under the Church was the Bishop of Woolwich’s “Fair Cricket” campaign. Last of the categorized campaigners were those already committed to the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Great Britain.
Although these groups have been designated as participants, it’s hard to know who exactly was involved in which demonstrations during the campaign. The fact that there were many Brits opposed to the tours, who did not explicitly identifying themselves, further blurs campaigner specifics. Another result of the lack of unity among the opposition is an unclear timeline of the demonstrations. Methods of the campaign are known, but the time and often place within the tour is not. Most often, demonstrators invaded the rugby pitch while the Springboks played various British opponents and the game would have to be stopped. As a result, matches had to be played on fields surrounded with barbed wire fence. Campaigners glued shut the hotel door locks of South African players. In December 1969, a few Springbok players had boarded their bus in Twickenham, England, when it was hijacked. Player Tommy Bedford got his hands on the driver and forced a crash. No one was injured. Once, protestors placed sharp thumbtacks on one of the rugby fields.
Campaigners held an anti-apartheid torchlight procession when the team was in Coventry, England. Demonstrator Adrian Smith recounted, “I was starting to become politically aware and, as a rugby fan, I knew how important the game was to the Afrikaaners. It was time for a lot of us to make a stand. I’ll never forget the look of amazement on the Springbok players’ faces as they stood on their hotel balcony watching us parade underneath.”
Sometimes the Springboks faced demonstrations from the teams they played in the tour. Welsh flanker John Taylor abstained from playing in the match against South Africa. Coach Carwyn James refused to come out of the locker room during his team’s match in protest.
Regardless of an unclear timeline, the campaign was successful as “one of the most bitter sporting tours in the history of this country (England).” Not only that, the cricket tour scheduled for 1970 was cancelled due to the potential for similar demonstrations. This campaign’s victory was followed by numerous other anti-apartheid protests in sports competition.