Ostracized from international sports because of its domestic racial discrimination, South Africa announced a new sports policy in September, 1976, to allow interracial sports competion in this otherwise strictly segregated country.
Yet 17 months later there is confusion about implementation of the new policy. It has deliberately been left vague so as not to antagonize the conservative whites in the ruling National Party caucuses who perceive racially mixed sports as "the thin edge of the wedge" in dismantling segregation.
Even in naming its new sports policy, the government avoided such terms as integrating and mixing. The policy is called the "normalization" of sports. The result of this is uncertainty among the general public.
The Ministry of Sports, headed by moderate Piet Koornhof, who officially maintains that there are no barriers to completely integrated competition. yet South Africa's Group Aeraas Act which decress residential segregation; its Separate Amenities Act which requires separate toilets and sports facilities, and its liquor law which prevents whites and blacks from drinking together sabotage many integrated sporting events before they even begin.
Thomas V. Bulpin, a Cape Town book publisher can vouch for that.Last month, he was organizing 'a marathon swim for a summer festival.
In accordance with the new policy, his committee announced that the event would be open to all races. Before the meet could begin, however, a police officer warned that they were "inciting colored (mixed race) people to break the law" Because the starting for whits, Bulpin said. If the starting point was moved to anotehr beach, the whites would be breaking the law. The race was a conceled. An exasperated Bulpin said.
There is a group of militant sports leaders who criticize all the modifications in official sports policy as "window dressing" and say that no meaningful changes can occur under the present structure of South African society.
"There can be no normal sports in an abnormal society," said Manichum Pather, secretary of a largely Indian and "colored" tennis group. Segregated housing, pay gaps between blacks and whites, different education systems, employment restrictions and liquor ordinances that separate the races makes it impossible to play truly mixed sports at every level.Pather and others say. Sports leaders who have adopted this position have been refused passports by the government, said Abdhul Bhamjee, spokesman for a largely Indian adn "colored" soccer group.
"The government is not promoting mixed sports," its critics say, "it is promoting international competition."#THope of returning to the international sports arena anytime soon is fading fast in South Africa.
"Instead of getting easier, it's getting harder," said Rudolph Opperman, president of South Africa's Olympic and National Games Association. South Africa was suspended from Olympic participation in 1963 because of its domestic racial policies.
"I've come back from talking with the prime minister so often; after telling him these are the things they are demanding from South Africa - if we could only comply with these that would change the attitude of the outside would . . . only to find the outside world becoming more hostile, more demanding," Opperman said.
Faced with the conflicts between the proclaimed new policy and the laws governing society here the Ministry of sports has quietly and officially put out the word to those who are eager to push ahead with fuller integration in sports: "Just don't ask us or we might have to say no."
There is no doubt that some progress toward wider black participation in national sports has been made. The ministry points to the more than 1,900 interracial competitions since September, 1976. Before then, mixed competitions were allowed only at national and international level, and only 128 of these events had ever been held.
Teams for international competitions are now chosen on merit at multiracial trials, judged by multiracial committees. The soccer team that played against Rhodesia in 1977 (the only country that still plays soccer with South Africa) had eight blacks. Individual blacks have won top national honors in golf, track and boxing.
The government also now allows, though does not require, the formation of one national, multiracial body for each sport.This has occurred only in cricket so far.
The state of soccer illustrates well the tensions and complexities on the sports scene here.
On the number side, three separate national soccer bodies still exist, a white, a black and a nonracial body that is predominatly Indian and "colored". They all belong to the football (soccer) Council of South Africa.
There has been a bit more progress among the professional branches of these three soccer bodies. The an white National Football League disbanded last year because it was banned from international games in 1976. Seven clubs joined the predominantly Indian and "colored" group while five joined the black group.
"This has meant that all the top white professional clubs will be controlled by nonwhite organizations," said the league chairman, Viv Granger. "White professional soccer has sacrificed itself for the future since the clubs believe the future of the country is with the blacks," he said.Another important point is financial success. "You've got to have blacks to attract crowd support," granger added.
Opperman, the president of the Olympic Association, estimates that 1,000 South African athletes have lost the opportunity to compete in the Olympics since South Africa was banned.
"In the long run, it'll hurt our sports, especially where (results) can't be measured with a stopwatch," he said.
South African sportsmen should not be penalized for what their government's policies, Opperman said. "Where in the world do you find sportsmen ruling a country? They don't rule the world."