The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will send a delegation to South Africa in November to assess progress toward eliminating racial barriers in sport there, and its report is expected to determine whether or not South African teams are allowed to remain in international tennis competition.
"This follows the refusal of a number of countries to complete in the Davis Cup and Federation Cup because of the acceptance of South African teams, and the criticisms of the workings of apartheid in sport by the Commonwealth heads of government at their meeting in London in June," David Groy, general secretary of the IFT, the worldwide governing body of tennis, said yesterday.
Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Commonwealth Caribbean (British West Indies) recently withdrew from the 1978 Davis Cup draw, leaving only the United States, Colombia and South Africa in the North Section of the American Zone.
The withdrawal of Canada, which did not want to jeopardize the participation of African nations in the Commonwealth Games at Edmonton next year, was the most dramatic recent development in the growing wave of opposition to South African participation in tennis, one of the few sports in which it is still officially recognized.
South Africa won the Davis Cup by default in 1974 when India refused to play the final. Many nations, including the Soviet Union and its East European neighbors, have refused to play South Africa, leading to major disruptions in the Davis Cup and its women's equivalent, the Federation Cup.
"South Africa was excluded from the Davis Cup in 1970 and then readmitted two years later because the federation felt that there was evidence of progress towards nonracial sport in South Africa," Gray said.
"Since then, South Africa's representatives have argued that the legal barriers to competition between players of different races at the club and tournament level have been removed.Those suggestionshave been received skeptically in some quarters.
"The (ITF) Committee of Management now feels that the quality and rate of the progress that has been made should be assessed by a representative delegation."
ITF president Philippe Chatrier of France is expected to head a 10-day visit by a delegation of five. Representatives of the International Olympic Committee and the Commonwealth Games will likely be invited to join the panel, which will report to the ITF Committee of Management meeting in Paris next January, Gray said.
ITF officials reportedly tried to persuade South Africa to withdraw from the Davis Cup and Federation Cup, which is scheduled for Australia in December, but South African Tennis Union officials declined, arguing that there are currently no barriers to non-racial sport in their country.
The ITF last year suspended the Soviet Union for refusing to play Chile, and recently enacted tough rules calling for the automatic suspension of any nation that enters international competition and then withdraws for political reasons.
South African participation, however, is a more complex and emotional issue, and the recent Davis Cup withdrawals have forced the ITF to reassess its long-standing policy that reform can best be brought about by keeping South Africa as a member.