At Wimbledon last June 1 was talking with Sol Kerzener, one of the promoters of today's WBA heavyweight bout between American Jonh Tate and South African Gerrie Coetzee.
Kerzener was confident he could pull off the fight and I didn't believe him.
It's one thing to have boxing in South Africa, or a tennis tournament. In light of South Africa's system of racial apartheid, I never believed you'd see a heavyweight championship boxing match there.
My conviction was so strong I bet the promoter 100 Rand ( $110). Obviously the promoters, their money, NBC television, and South Africa's determination to hold this fight were powerful forces too. They prevailed.
And I lost my bet.
The heart of my conviction is that while South Africa clearly has made some progress in eradicating segregation, especially in sports, there are still so many racially motivated injustices abounding that no rational person could justify that country hosting such a prestigious event.
South African teams cannot even participate in the Olympics, let alone host it. In fact, South Africa has been voted out of international competition in 13 major sports. Its legal system of apartheid is evil, and as a member of the world's community of nations, it is to be condemned until it changes its ways. And the point that South Africa is not the only repressive nation is no justification for exemptive exoneration.
It is customary for out TV networks to show off a place when broadcasting a sports event. What will NBC show? Modern Johannesburg and Pretoria -- which was built with black labor at wages that, by law, were one-third to one-quarter that of white wages for the same job? Will it show Soweto, that sprawling black, by law township of 1 million, 50 percent of whose homes have no electricity or indoor plumbing?
Will it show the Asians, coloreds, or Africans voting for or against their prime minister? Certainly not, because they cannot vote, by law.
Nor could it show that if all goes well in South Afica, in 10 to 15 years there will be no more black South Africans. Because by then they will all have had their South African citizenship forcibly taken away. In turn they will be presented with another passport from some makeshift nation called a homeland. Eighteen million black South Africans will have been disenfranchised whether they like it or not. If those things are not shown, then in all fairness neither should NBC show beautiful downtown Johannesburg, where blacks, Asians and coloreds are not allowed to live. Johannesburg is in what is known as a "white group area."
Why do I single out South Africa for this kind of treatment? And why should it not host a title fight as it has in the past hosted non-title fights? sWell, I got into these two issues with the South African promoter after we made the bet. His point is that this figfht will be great for his country and that it is positive proof that the government is trying to change things.
My answer to that is simple. South Africa is looking for pats on the back because now apartheid is a little more tolerable. But the crucial fact is that it is still the law of the land.
To be sure, there have been a few protesting picketers around the NBC studios in New York city. But no protest of any great magnitude has surfaced. Groups like TransAfrica, the American Committee on Africa, the Congressional Black Caucus and interested individuals also have protested to NBC.
Around the corner looms the possibility of another Olympic boycott by some Third World nations sympathetic to the anti-apartheid movement and upset with NBC's telecast today (NBC will televise the 1980 Summer Olympics). I thought the 41 African nations that boycotted the '76 Olympics at Montreal were ill-advised to do so. And they would again be ill-advised to do it next year because of the NBC telecast of this fight.
But they might.
As for NBC, its judgment in choosing to televise this fight could have been better.