The consensus among blacks and whites in South Africa is that in the last decade, sports in this country has made great strides toward breaking down the infamous apartheid system and now is largely multiracial.

But just as firmly expressed by those surveyed -- South African sports administrators, athletes and journalists -- was the opinion that the widescale movement toward integration in sports probably would not have evolved so quickly without the athletic boycotts and restrictions imposed by international sporting bodies.

"There have been remarkable changes in government (sports) policy during the last half-dozen years," said Charles Fortune, secretary of the South African Cricket Union. "There has been a most remarkable opening up of opportunities for nonwhite chaps and a tremendous opening up of white sportsmen's hearts for black athletes."

George Thabe, president of the South African Football Council and the country's foremost black sports administrator, agreed, but added, "The boycotts were good because they forced the whites to reconsider their attitude toward blacks in this country. But if the pressure hadn't come, I don't think the change would have come."

Danie Craven, president of the South African Rugby Board and the most powerful and outspoken white sports administrator in the country, agreed. "The progress in the last few years toward integration in sports is beyond description," Craven said from the offices of the Rugby Board in Stellenbosch. But he denied that international pressure is responsible.

"On the contrary, it incites us to rebel on people who try to force something on us," said Craven. "Don't kick us when we are down and then ask us to change things. Just shut up and do what sports demand rather than what politics demands and there will be further changes."

South Africa's sporting problems started in 1962, when the International Olympic Committee voted to bar it from the Tokyo Olympics because of its apartheid practices. The vote followed a statement by the South African Minister of the Interior that "government policy still is that no mixed teams should take part in sports inside or outside South Africa."

Two years later, South Africa played its last soccer internationally, in Johannesburg's Rand Stadium against Real Madrid of Spain. Afterward, the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) ordered its members to cease competition with South Africa.

But the problems didn't snowball until 1970, when the IOC withdrew recognition of the South African Olympic Association, South Africa played its last international match in cricket, the nation was suspended from the international cycling and canoeing organizations, and the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) restricted South African participation in track and field to individuals only.

Things didn't get much better through the remainder of the decade, as South Africa was suspended from the international bodies of swimming and bowling (1973), shooting (1974), soccer (1976), chess (1977) and basketball (1978), as well as a host of other sports. In addition, the members of the British Commonwealth voted to suspend all sports participation with South Africa in the Gleneagles Agreement of 1974. South Africa now is barred from 23 international athletic associations and their events. It is effectively cut off from international competition in most major sports.

A United Nations panel is trying to draft a global treaty to outlaw sports with South Africa and any other nation espousing apartheid in sports. The final draft is expected in September.

Naturally, South Africans see this as a sign that the noose is tightening despite efforts toward integration.

"We've changed things in sports but nothing seems to be good enough," said Billy Cooper, a sportswriter for Johannesburg's conservative Citizen newspaper. "It's now completely a political thing. They keep putting more pressure on. Now they demand one man, one vote before we can play internationally. What more do they want?"

Despite the enforced isolation, South African sports and sportsmen have managed quite well.

Few countries ban individual South Africans from any competition in which they represent themselves rather than their country. Thus, certain athletes have been able to excel in the international arena: Johan Kreik in tennis, Gary Player and Sally Little in golf, Sydney Maree in track, Patrick Ntsoelengoe in soccer, just to name a few.

As president of the Football Council and chairman of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), Thabe is one of the key figures in the integration movement. Under his leadership, soccer has become generally regarded as the pacesetter in the field.

"There are a few very sincere sports administrators, as well as athletes, who regard integration as something that must come and must come fast, to the extent they are willing to take a stand even if it is against the government to see nonracialism is a reality," said Thabe. "But two years ago, the government suspended some of the laws regarding sports. We were able to break the color ban, which was government policy up until that time."

Until 1980, it was technically illegal for blacks and whites to play on the same field, sit in the same stands or belong to the same athletic organization on an equal basis.

"I broke so many laws," said Thabe, "I should have been locked up long ago."

Then the President's Human Sciences Research Council published an interim report on integrating South African sports. Subsequently, amendments were made to the discriminatory Liquor and Group Areas acts with regard to professional sports so that whites and blacks could play on the same fields and teams, and sit in the same stands at the discretion of the owner of the facility.

Today, Thabe's Football Council and NPSL are the nation's best examples of multiracial sports. In the NPSL, for example, the chairman and general manager are blacks, but the director of coaching and director of referees are whites. The teams remain predominantly black or white, based on a continuation of tradition more than anything else. But slowly, via trades and acquisitions, the teams are taking on a multiracial composition.

Still, the old racially based soccer associations are not dead. They remain as amateur organizing bodies under the Football Council, setting up amateur leagues and competitions on a racial basis. "This is necessary because each racial group is still required by apartheid laws to live in separate areas," explained Thabe. "They remain intact mostly for convenience."

Thabe's and the Football Council's biggest current concern is convincing the world their sport is integrated and, therefore, should be accepted internationally.

"The world body (FIFA) should recognize we have reached the point of integration despite the laws and not because of them," said Thabe. "I think the boycott has achieved its objectives in the case of soccer. It is finally integrated now. But the boycott authors continue to pursue the boycott for political reasons."

Cricket is another pacesetter. The sport still is dominated by whites in both the administration and participation, but this is largely because the nonwhites traditionally have turned to other games like soccer.

Track and field (known as athletics in South Africa) is another well integrated sport, although, as in cricket, most of the competitors are still white because of a longer and stronger history of white participation in the sport. The South African Athletic Association has an open constitution, a black vice president and has eliminated the old racial associations that once governed the sport. Some of the nation's top track athletes are blacks, including the U.S.-based Maree and Matthews Motshwaratea, who recently gained Botswanan citizenship so he can participate in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Other strong multiracial sports are golf, which has black leagues and provincial players who participate alongside whites, and boxing, in which blacks have been able to face whites for only the last half-decade.

"It took a lot for the traditional white Afrikaners to accept a white man boxing and losing to a black man," said Cooper.

But one major sport that seems to have missed the integration bandwagon is rugby, the national sport and the most popular among the staunchly conservative Afrikaner population. Almost everyone questioned, other than the rugby authorities themselves, felt rugby had done the least to establish multiracial play, and that what changes had taken place were purely cosmetic, for the consumption of the international press and sporting community.

"Rugby diehards won't accept integration," said Cooper. "There hasn't been any pressure on rugby to change things. They still play internationally. They get in through the back door."

The rugby people disagree. "We have real integration in South African rugby," said the Rugby Board's Craven. "It can speak for itself. We have growing pains, yes, but rugby is fully integrated."

Rugby, more than any other team sport in South Africa, has been successful in maintaining international play. "That's because the international rugby establishment is very sympathetic toward South Africa," said Sy Lerman, a sports reporter for the Rand Daily Mail of Johannesburg. "Rugby is controlled by right-wing elements around the world. They see rugby not as a game, but as a religion that is not to be interfered with by politics. It's all a matter of pressure. Once you take their sport away, the Afrikaners will start to think seriously about integration."

South Africa recently has taken the offensive against the boycotters, and many sportsmen have said they no longer will accept the growing movement toward isolationism.

And the South African government is supporting "break-the-boycott" programs. The Department of National Education last year allocated nearly $150,000 to assisting foreign athletes in 31 sports to play in South Africa.

As Burger, a member of the executive of the South African Olympic Games Association and the five-time national pentathlon champion, doesn't think that's enough. He said the government should spend $1 million a week to conduct a massive international public relations campaign against isolation.

"If people don't want to see sense, to realize that in South Africa there are no more obstacles to integration, then any means is permissible in attracting foreign sportsmen," said Craven in defending what have been termed "bribes" given to attract international competition. "We need them."

South Africa has had sporadic success in punching holes in the wall of isolation. The Springbok rugby team, for example, toured New Zealand and the United States last year.

The most popular and controversial of the boycott-breaking tours was the South African Brewery-sponsored English cricket team, which played six unofficial test matches in South Africa in March. The English cricketers were lured here by an estimated $650,000 in prize money. Graham Gooch, the English captain, was said to have received $125,000. Official payments were never made public.

Back in Great Britain, the cricketers were branded "The Dirty Dozen" and the "Rebels." Labor MP Dennis Howell accused them of accepting "blood money."

But the team was welcomed by the white sporting press and fans here who saw the tour as progress against isolation. The tour matches made front page headlines, crowds were tremendous and talk was rampant about other boycott-breaking tours.

South African blacks didn't quite see the tour in the same light.

"I assure you that most black South Africans are either disgusted with the heroes of their white compatriots or at best indifferent to this new hubbub in the white community," a leading black civil rights leader said at the time. "What pleases most whites, you can bet your bottom dollar, is almost axiomatically designed to annoy most blacks, and vice versa."

Opposition to the cricket tour was much wider than the government was willing to admit. Ten students were hospitalized after violent clashes at the Durban campus of the University of Natal between pro- and antitour demonstrators. And the Rev. Allan Hendricks, leader of the South African Labour Party, called for a boycott of all South African Breweries products because of SAB sponsorship of the tour. The all-black South African Council of Sports unofficially supported the suggestion.

Hendricks said the tour was against the interests of the majority of South Africans and the money spent on luring the English cricketers could have been better spent on projects in poverty-stricken black communities.

This black hostility toward white sportsmen is one of the major obstacles left in the struggle for racial harmony in sports. "Traditionally, the black man supports overseas teams against anything South African," said Lerman. "That's especially true of U.S. black boxers against South African white boxers."

The recent Davey Moore-Charlie Weir WBA junior middleweight fight in Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium was a good example. Because of the high ticket prices, mostly whites filled the arena. But it was South African blacks who were dancing in the streets afterward, when they heard Moore had defeated Weir in five rounds.

Obviously, there are many integration problems yet to be solved in South African sports. Segregation remains strong at the amateur and school levels in many sports because the communities and schools themselves are segregated. In addition, it is the official policy of the Transvaal Education Department to discourage mixed sports in its schools. When a number of private schools started admitting black students in 1981, the department created two sports leagues, one for those who preferred all-white play and one for those who didn't object to mixed sports.

Fanie Schoeman, the top educational administrator in Transvaal, defended the move by saying dual leagues were necessary "to maintain law and order" and that racial integration could not be forced in school sports.

Although the professional sports grounds in South Africa now are legally integrated, many of the municipal and provincial facilities remain segregated because the central government has no jurisdiction over them. For example, the Johannesburg City Council in February reaffirmed its policy that the city's municipal pools and recreation centers should remain white-only.

Perhaps Bishop Desmond Tutu, the black head of the South African Council of Churches and one of the leading opponents to apartheid, put it well when he said, "Despite all these efforts at fraternizing and despite having a good measure of mixed sport, this has not touched at the heart of the apartheid system. Clearly you can't have normal sports in an abnormal society."