SOUTH AFRICA is the only country in the world where separation of people on the basis of race is not legal but supported by a moral code supposedly divined by God.

People of European ancestry exercize complete dominion over the black, colored and Asian South Africans. This power is absolute.Each of the four races must live, socialize and even be buried in separate areas. This is apartheid, and no facet of South African society is exempt from these principles. Not even sport.

South African apartheid and the world of sports is a slippery issue. In trying to grasp the pros and cons and reach some conclusion, opposing sides must first deal with some basic points.

Premise number one: Sport is an acceptable tool to be used to achieve a political end. This is by far the stickiest and most contentious premise. Sports purists say politics should be kept out of sport. Others obviously disagree. If some political objective is important enough, they say, then using sport to gain leverage makes sense. The reasoning goes: If South Africa has outstanding athletes with international reputations, then denying them access to competition might make South Africa change its racist policies.

Premise two: Individual athletes should not be made to pay for the sins of their government. More than once during the Vietnam war I was criticized in Europe. The inference was that I was partly to blame for our military operations in Southeast Asia. Some Europeans wanted to punish me for U.S. bombing of Cambodia. So you can imagine how some people feel about South Africans.

There are many who feel that all South African athletes seeking green cards (work permits issued by the U.S. State Department) should be turned down to put pressure on their government. But I would not deny entrance to any South African athlete who would publicly answer the questions, "Do you believe in apartheid as espoused by your government? Or do you believe in equaltiy of opportunity for all people as idealized in the U.S. Constitution?" There can be only one correct set of answers and no equivocation. Sometimes there is.

Gary Player, for instance, equivocates. His response is usually, "I'm a golfer.I'm not a politician." That's totally unacceptable. If athletes like Player can publicly say no to their government and state their belief in equal opportunity, then I say give them a green card. If they hedge, then by our moral standards they are unfit to work here.

Premise three: Athletes who compete in South Africa give credibility to apartheid. If I play tennis in Moscow does that mean I think the Russians are good guys? My answer is straight forward: If I compete as an individual I in no way make a comment about some nation's government. I am merely pursuing my vocation. That is a logical answer. But nevertheless my sense of morality is infringed upon if I play in a country that profanes my moral code.

The other side of this argument is that as long as relations are carried on with the Republic of South Africa, those in power there will feel less inclined to change. If life can continue as usual, they say, why should South Africa desegregate.

Actually, life for the black South African athlete on the fields and courts is better than it was 10 years ago. But blacks, coloreds and Asians still cannot vote; they cannot join the white labor unions, which are the only ones fully recognized by the government; they must attend their own schools, in which are taught the principles of apartheid; they are restrictions on the amounts of loans they can secure from banks; and there is no bill of rights as we know it, thereby making redress in the courts impossible. In short, South Africa is still a white supremacist police state.

Black Africa tried in the summer of '76 to show how much it despised the South African government. Forty-one African boycotted the Montreal Olympics because of the presence of the New Zealand contingent. New Zealand's rugby team had competed earlier against South Africa's national rugby team so these 41 nations wanted New Zealand out of the Olympics.

When their request was denied the 41 nations withdrew. Whether those ends were achieved remains to be seen.

Then there are Sydney Maree and George Mehale. Both are outstanding South African runners and attend universities in the U.S. Neither can participate in the Olympics or any AAU meets simply because they are South African. The fact that both are black makes their situation strongely ironic. Supposedly potential beneficiaries of the international pressure on South Africa, they are instead victims. They are made to suffer for the sins of a government they can't even legally help to elect.

No U.S. team should compete against a South African team until the Republic of South Africa rescinds its legally codified apartheid policy.

South African athletes competing as individuals should be allowed green cards, provided they publicly renounce apartheid.

Individual American athletes who compete in South Africa do help to provide South Africa with a positive image which assists in counterbalancing the true nature of their segregationist society.This is a statement of fact.

Anyone who believes that sports and politics shouldn't mix is naive. Everyone will at some time in their life feel strongly enough about something to say, "I won't play with him anymore." And that is a statement of moral position.