While civil rights groups continue to organize protests against the Davis Cup tennis matches between the U.S. and South Africa scheduled next month in Nashville, a four-man delegation for the International Tennis Federation (ITF) is quietly making a tour of South Africa, attempting to determine whether or not that country should be expelled from the ITF and the Davis Cup Nations.
One of the few governing bodies of a major international sport that has not thrown out South Africa because of its apartheid racial policies, the ITF sent its delegation on a two-week fact-finding mission aimed at assessing the progress toward multiracial sport in South Africa.
"Everyone agrees there has been a certain amount of progress, but what is at issue is whether the rate of progress is acceptable to the international community," said David Gray, general secretary of the ITF, in Johannesburg.
"We hope to get a reasonable picture of the situation."
The delegation - which also includes ITF President Philippe Chatrier of France, Theodore Zeh of Austria and Leslie Ashenheim of Jamaica - is trying to ascertain if South African is abiding by ITF rules that forbid discrimination in tennis competion.
Its findings, which will be reported to the annual meeting of the 103-nation ITF at Sockholm in July, will help the federation decide whether "chucking South Africa out of the Davis Cup in 1970-71, but readmited in 1972 after "a series of improvements," according to Gray.
South Africa won the cup by default in 1974 when India refused to play the final. This year, a number of countries did not enter the draw because of South Africa's presence, including four of the seven countries in the North American Zone (Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Commonwealth Caribbean.
Gray said that "something clearly had to done" after the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) told the ITF it reluctantly would play South Africa in the North American Zone finals at Vanderbilt University, March 17-19, but would seek South Africa's removal in 1979, by either voluntary withdrawal or expulsion.
Arthur Ashe, the only world-class black tennis player and a longtime critic of South African racism, has applauded calls for demonstration by influential U.S. civil rights groups in Nashville. But he views the ITF delegation as the key to long-range resolution of South Africa's disruptive presence in the Davis Cup.
"The ITF now has rules and procedures for dealing with nations that might be deemed undesirable, and these should be adhered to," Ashe told The Washington Post. "Because the issue is an emotional one, there's a tendency to want to go off half-cocked and come to some conclusion based on emotion, but it shouldn't be done that way.
"If any nation is going to be removed or reprimanded, this should be done according to the rules. The ITF delegation is the proper way of doing it" Ashe added.
Ashe favors massive peaceful picketing of the U.S. South Africa matches to express American outrage with South African repression, but supports the USTA's commitment to play the contest. If the U.S. were to withdraw, it would be subject to an automatic two-year suspension fron the Davis Cup.
In its tour of several South African provinces, the ITF delegation will examine "what tennis facilities have been built for the less-privileged communities," according to Gray. It will also meet with the three national tennis bodies (white, coloured, black) to hear conflicting versions of why they have not formed a single, multiracial tennis organization.
The white South African Tennis Union (SATU), which is afflicted with the ITF claims it has made overtures for establishment of an integrated union but has been rebuffed by the colored South African Lawn Tennis Union (SALTU), which is commited to nonracial tennis.
"We are ready to form a new supreme body," said Blen Franklin, a judge of the Transvaal Supreme Court and outgoing president of SATU. "We offered suggestions along the lines of a complete cross-affiliation or for a merger of all three bodies with proportional representation according to official membership."
Franklin said that SALTU has been the obstacle to such consolidation and, because of this, "We're beginning to lose faith in their desire to have multiracial tennis."
But SALTU Secretary Manichum Nadarajan Pather said his body boycotted a proposed meeting last August because it did not want to affiliate on a "subservient level." He said SATU was dragging its feet in working toward multiracialism.
The ITF delegation will also be meeting with representatives of South African soccer, rugby and cricket organizations and with the new policy of intergrated sports in September 1976," said Ashe, "but now that the policy has been more clearly defined, it is really multinational sport, not multiracial.
"You can have, at the grass roots, an all-black team playing an all-Asian team playing on all-colored one, and there are some integrated teams. But in some parts of South Africa, the local magistrate or Bantu Affiars minister won't allow intergrated sport. And if true intergrated sport is not allowed throughout the country, then South Africa cannot make the claim that it has intergrated sports," Ashe continued.
"The ITF delegation will see the right people, no question about it. They'll talk to M.N. Pather and get the other side of the story."
South Africa's naming Sunday of a nonwhite player, 18-year-old Vanderbilt sophomore Peter Lamb, to the seven-man squad that will train for the matches against the U.S. was viewed by many, including Ashe, as a carefully-timed attempt to impress the ITF delegation.