THE CANCELLATION of a rugby match on the Mall between a team of South Africans and a local team demonstrated truly acrobatic reasoning on the part of District officials. The reason for cancellation, D.C. recreation department officials said, was that the match might have caused violence if protestors had appeared at the game to object to the presence of a South African team--a team from a nation with apartheid policies--playing near the national monuments. A spokesman for Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.) said that the congressman had added his voice to the requests that the game be cancelled because "this is an overwhelmingly black city. Obviously people are going to be upset."

Upset is the right word. It can easily upset Americans to hear that a private group's private game is cancelled because city officals make a political decision to refuse to grant them police protection. How would black city officials react if officials in a predominantly white city took such a stand against a black group whose policies the whites did not like? The rationale of District officials that it was better to cancel the event than to risk violence seems indefensible, since only six protestors showed up for the game--a game that was not advertised. Even if many more had shown up, city officials should have been willing to defend the players' right to have their game.

The South African team, it should also be noted, was in no way connected with the South African government, unlike the Springboks, the national team, that encountered problems when it tried to tour the United States earlier this year. The District's decision to cancel the rugby match with a totally different team seems a knee-jerk reaction to what happened with the Springboks. No matter how contemptible the South African government's apartheid policies, the intimidation of an American city government by threats of violence is a sad occurrence. Citizens of the District lost a much bigger match than any rugby game.