Rugby Union and Apartheid South Africa

Sporting boycotts were one were part of a concerted effort to bring change to the Apartheid policies of the South African regime. These sporting boycotts, whilst not being the only measure, were an effective measure to institute change in South Africa. The sporting boycotts, lead by Commonwealth nations were significant because of the role of sport within South African society and within the Commonwealth as well. I argue that the sporting boycott of a particular sport, rugby was the most significant and the events surrounding the Springboks, the South African national rugby team, played a key role in the anti-apartheid movement.

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Apartheid was a system of racial segregation enforced by white Afrikaner minority over the indigenous majority. Apartheid policy was enacted following the 1948 election of the main Afrikaner nationalist party, the Herenigde Nasionale Party. Different ethnic group were “classed ” into categories, as either white, colored, or “native. (Landis, p 14). This was significant as this separated society leading to forging of different national identities through different means. For the ruling “white” population, rugby was a source of national identity (Nauright, p 56).

It played a significant part for Afrikaner culture, with rugby being a representation of their society. (Black and Nauright, p 35). . Rugby was the avenue in which Afrikaners could compete against the world. John Carlin, The Independents’ South Africa correspondent from 1989 to 1995, wrote a book called playing the Enemy. Through his first hand experiences with Nelson Mandela, he describes how Mandela’s decision in prison to unite the South African nation was through, as he saw it, the Afrikaner “secular religion”, rugby.

Whilst international efforts focused on South African expulsion from the Olympic movement, South Africa’s expulsion from the movement was not the most crucial event in the attempt to isolate South Africa in sport. Rather, the campaigns to eliminate South Africa from international rugby were more significant when assessed in terms of influencing the target group of white South Africans. (Nauright, p 55) It is because of the way that rugby is viewed that being deprived of Springbok rugby hurt so much, as was so effective in change in apartheid.

The use of the 1995 World cup winning team, to unite post apartheid South Africa is further evidence of this. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. ‘LIKE FLEAS ON A DOG’: EMERGING NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT OVER NEW ZEALAND RUGBY TIES WITH SOUTH AFRICA, 1965-74John Nauright Department of Human Movement Studies University of Queensland [ 2 ]. Black, David R and John Nauright. Rugby and the South African Nation. Manchester; Manchester University Press, 1998. [ 3 ]. John Nauright


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