Bob Arum and the government of South Africa have just made my sodium pentothal team, joining Chuck Fairbanks and Jerry Tarkanian, the NCAA, IOC, most NFL coaches and nearly every prominent horse trainer in the country.

The team changes from time to time. Before his forced exile, George Allen was captain. John Wooden was a regular when his UCLA teams were all-powerful and Bowie Kuhn also rated mention every time he thrashed Charlie Finley "in the best interest of baseball."

Sodium pentothalers are chosen in the best interest of truth, the people I most would like to jab with about a half-hour's worth of serum and discover what honestly drifts through their minds before leaving their mouths as something entirely different.

Why Arum and the South Africans? To find out whether it was a conspiracy or merely a convenient accident that allows them to profit from - in fact fuel - the worst instincts of mankind. And for South Africa to gain what nearly the entire athletic world has worked so hard for so long to deny.

That would be recognition.

Sports are a significant part of South African culture - and being barred in 1970 from the Olympics, and in 1976 by the international governing body for track and field, for its apartheid policies, hurt deeply. Although golfer Gary Player and Grand Prix racer Jody Scheckter have fared well, the country has been a virtual worldwide pariah for nearly a decade.

But there is a title that supersedes all others, even an Olympic gold medal. That is heavyweight champion of the world - and a South African named Gerrie Coetzee (coat-SEE-ah) is fighting for half of it in, of all places, South Africa.

Anyone with a mind has to wonder about the relationship between promoter Arum and the South African government, for both Coetzee and other Afrikaner, Kallie Knoetze, were highly favored positions in the elimination system used to find a successor for Muhammad Ali's vacant World Boxing Association title.

The rankings for this elimination were at best curious, perhaps the finest collection of questionable fighters not under the influence of another promoter, Don King. The most famous South African, Knoetze, was named top seed and the best South African, Coetzee, was fourth.

Why was Knoetze seeded first when Arum had the former WBA champ, Leon Spinks, in his stable? And when he was not even the best South African fighter, having lost to the unbeaten Coetzee?

Perhaps because the No. 1 seed would not be forced to leave his turf. The challenger, American John Tate. would have to come to him.

To South Africa. Specifically, to Bophuthatswana, one area the government has said will be black and independent and which nobody else recognizes as more than a sham. It would be like the United States herding all Indians to South Dakota and calling it an independent nation.

In the Knoetze-Tate bout nearly a month ago, South Africa got through boxing what it had failed to gain elsewhere, the dateline it coveted - Bophuthatswana - acceptance that this despicable place existed.

Knoetze losing was not that critical. His status as a celebrity, as the fellow barred from fighting in the U.S. because of a felony conviction, had served his country much better than his oafish skills in the ring.

Also, he has lost to a acceptable black, Tate, the flag-waving former Olympian. Besides, Coetzee was the more desirable South African, but unknown much beyond his country.

How could he get recognition? By beating Spinks, the former heavy weight champion. And that would be highly likely, because Spinks had shown a unique talent for botching every major positive break in his life.

The night he upset Ali in Las Vegas, his mother wished out loud that Spinks would be able to handle the extraordinary pressure of being heavyweight champ. He could not, and an in-shap Ali embrassed him in the rematch.

So a Coetzee could gain instant credibility by whipping a relatively easy mark, Spinks. Which he did, with a first-round knockout two weeks ago in Monte Carlo.

Now the dreams of Arum and South Africa have been realized. The repulsive South African, Knoetze, has been beaten and the tolerable South African, Coetzee, the one publicly against segregation, the one who can legally fight in the U.S. has won.

And he fights the patriotic black American, Tate.

Mike Mortimer, a South African and chairman of the WBA's championship committee, said this week that Tate and Coetzee would fight for Ali's crown - and Arum said the bout would be Sept. 14 or 15 in Johannesburg or Pretoria.

So what? Cynics will insist that white hopes have been a significant part of boxing for a half-century and more - and that every country, from Zaire to Finland to Saudi Arabia, has used sport to turn the world's head toward it.

Still, the world has taken a tough position toward South Africa. Now the country, through the WBA, has found a way to gain a good deal of what it wants. Or at least no cries of outrage have reached here.

A friend recently returned from South Africa was incredulous that amateur sport could bar a black South African, Sydney Maree, from international competition while professional sport allows a bout that enhances the government's position to develop without protest.

Only the strongest sort of censorship will make South Africa change its policies, beyond what recent athletic spankings have brought about in sports. Instead, what we have is South Africa given a chance to trumpet the biggest honor in sport, the successor to Ali.

Take the scenario a bit farther. If Coetzee beats Tate, would that not make Ali restless? How many millions could a hustler such as Arum generate for that sort of match? Could Ali let a South African keep his title unchallenged? Ali will have stayed in decent shape by them, cuffing assorted football players and other fools - and Coetzee still would have fought professionally less than 25 times.

The WBA's rival, the World Boxing Council, the one with Larry Holmes as champ, provided Arum with his only viable route by refusing to recognize South African fighters. It is time the rest of us refused to recognize the WBA.