In a rare triumph of morality over money, John McEnroe has decided to call off his $1 million five-set tennis match with Bjorn Borg. It was to have taken place Dec. 6 in a specially built 14,000-seat stadium in the "nation" of Bophuthatswana.
The match itself was a natural. Borg and McEnroe are clearly to top two tennis players in the world. This year, they reached the finals of the world's top two events, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Borg won Wimbleton in July in five sets and McEnroe won a tie breaker fifth set to capture last month's U.S. Open. The $1 million match at Bophuthatswana was intended to break the tie.
But as soon as the match was announced, various civil rights groups and individuals began besieging Borg and McEnroe.
Sweden's most influential evening paper, Express, ran front-page pictures of Borg with a headline saying, in effect, "Don't Do It." They followed this up with a center-fold spread of various human rights groups and concerned activists pleading with Borg not to go.
The promoter of the event is Sol-Kerzner, who runs the Southern Sun hotel chain in South Africa.
Bophuthatswana is one of the two phony independent nation-states that have been forced upon unwilling black South Africans in the last seven years by the white-minority government. The other phony ministate is Transkei. These noncontiguous, supposedly racially integrated areas are completely dependent upon South Africa. The chief attraction in Bophuthatswana is a casino run by Southern Sun.
The object of this "independent" scheme by the South African government is to one day have a country with no black South Africans. The country's 22 million black citizens are to be stripped of their native-born citizenship and granted new passports from new governments that no one recognizes.
The monies offered for the match were gargantuan, even by today's standards.
Each player was guaranteed about $600,000 just to show up. An extra $150,000 would have gone to the winner and the players would have also have shared in an expected $200,000 in TV-rights money.The winner was almost sure to gross $1 million and the loser slightly less. That event, had it taken place, would have clearly been the largest single payday in history for any two athletes other than a few professional boxers.
Borg, according to his business manager, Bob Kain, ". . . was ready to do it, flak or no flak. Bjorn believes that politics should not enter into sport and he is not involved in politics in any way. He wants to play tennis. Hell, he can't even pronounce Bophuthatswana."
Two years ago, Borg allegedly was put on the "hit list" of a couple of terrorist groups for posing in half of an Israeli army uniform while vactioning on the beaches of Tel Aviv.
McEnroe, on the other hand, welcomed the reasoned critique of some prominent civil rights leaders. Said his father, John Sr., "I've been talking to John (Jr.) in Australia almost every day. I relayed the problems and concerns to him as expressed by some very responsible people. Though we believe the criticism would die down eventually, I advised him that it wasn't worth a million dollars.
"Being only 21, he tried to figure out other ways of doing it but finally agreed that in this instance morality meant more than money. Even a million dollars."
When pressed about alternative sites, McEnroe Sr. said, "No one else had even approached the sums put forward by Mr. Kerzner." Kain agreed, adding, "We had several offers from around the globe to have John and Bjorn break this tie of theirs. But none came close to Kerzner's deal. We are talking almost $2 million plus expenses. Not even Caesars Palace, of course, started heavyweight tennis matches five years ago when it staged a series of $250,000, winner-take-all events starring Jimmy Connors.