THE lifting of sports sanctions on South Africa will open the way for head-to-head competition with Australia, a supporter in the fight against apartheid.
The Australian government is not expected to lift economic sanctions until the Commonwealth nations agree to do so jointly at their conference in Zimbabwe in October. But the rivalry between Australia and South Africa is likely to first be seen on the cricket pitch, then in the boardrooms.
South Africa and Australia share many of the same sporting traditions, and before sanctions were imposed, the two countries enjoyed the stiff competition. In their last rugby union match 20 years ago, the South African Springboks convincingly defeated the Australian Wallabies. The Aussies are looking forward to a rematch. Besides rugby and cricket, this old rivalry is likely to be seen on the netball courts and soccer fields.
Australia prides itself on its cricket and rugby prowess. Choosing national teams for test matches against other countries becomes a sports obsession, filling hundreds of column inches in the newspapers. A competitive sports team reinforces the image of a nation of battlers.
Of course no one expects the South Africans to suddenly turn up at the rugby fields and give the Wallabies a scrum.
"They have to be given time to get back into competitive form," says Joe French, the president of the Australian Rugby Union, which hopes South African is readmitted to the International Rugby Football Board in London by the end of the year. The international group is waiting for all the South African rugby groups to unite.
The South Africans have been quietly watching. A delegation from South Africa, for example, watched the world netball (a form of women's basketball) championships just completed in Sydney. …