Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

The Paralympic Protest Paradox: The Politics of Rhodesian Participation in the Paralympic Games, 1960-1980

Academic journal article Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research

The Paralympic Protest Paradox: The Politics of Rhodesian Participation in the Paralympic Games, 1960-1980

Article excerpt

UDI and the Sports Boycott Against Rhodesia

Rhodesian participation in international sport became an international issue following Ian Smith's unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in November 1965, as the ruling white minority of the colony sought to protect its privileged position. The British government, led by Prime Minister Harold Wilson, declared UDI to be an illegal act of rebellion and claimed that it retained legal authority over Rhodesia. It backed this up with a vigorous campaign to deny any international recognition to the Smith regime.

These efforts to deny international legitimacy to the Smith regime quickly extended into the realm of sport. The British argued that sporting contacts were a form of "comfort to the illegal regime in Rhodesia." These initial efforts succeeded, amongst others, in preventing international tours by the Rhodesian hockey team and in dissuading British football and cricket teams from touring Rhodesia. Not all efforts were successful, with Oldham Athletic football club and the French and British Lions rugby teams ignoring requests to cancel visits to Salisbury. Rhodesia was also successful in gaining admission to tennis' Davis Cup competition in 1968, although its away tie against Sweden was forced to be abandoned after anti-racism protestors staged an invasion of the match venue. (4)

These efforts were later strengthened by United Nations Security Council resolutions imposed against Rhodesia in 1968. Although sporting contacts were not specifically included amongst the targets of the resolutions, the breadth of their coverage ensured that they could be utilised for this purpose. Prohibitions on the transfer of funds into and out of Rhodesia, for instance, placed economic impediments on sporting contacts. The most significant elements of these sanctions, from a sporting perspective, were the non-recognition of Rhodesian passports and travel bans imposed on those deemed to be representative of the Smith regime. Although individual athletes were able to exploit loopholes in these regulations, nationally representative sporting teams were less able to do so, as they were increasingly defined to be representatives of the Smith regime and this in contravention of the travel ban.

One consequence was that Rhodesia also faced exclusion from almost all international multi-sport events. Even shortly prior to UDI, it had been overlooked for inclusion (along with South Africa and the Portuguese colonies of southern Africa) by the organisers of the first All-African Games in Brazzaville, who argued that its colonial status rendered it ineligible. The implications of UDI, itself, were to put pay to involvement in the Commonwealth Games. Although Rhodesia had hoped to still be able to compete in the 1966 Games in Jamaica, the threat of a boycott by most African and Asian countries muddied the waters and the Rhodesians agreed to withdraw (given that UDI was legally an act of rebellion against the British Crown, the Rhodesians had been left with little choice in this matter). The Jewish Maccabiah Games provided the last outpost of Rhodesian participation but, following UN condemnation for allowing Rhodesian participation in the 1973 edition of the Games, Israel was pushed to excluding them from later tournaments. (5)

It was the Olympics Games, however, that were to prove the most highly charged arena. Rhodesia had competed at the games in 1960 and 1964, but, following UDI, the British Government made it a priority to stop the team competing at Mexico City in 1968 and, following an intense campaign, the British eventually forced the Mexican organisers to exclude the Rhodesia team. Leadership of the boycott movement was then taken up by African Governments and sporting administrators, whose efforts culminated in the threat to boycott the 1972 Munich Olympics, after the IOC had initially engineered a compromise to allow Rhodesia's involvement. This last minute boycott threat eventually forced the IOC to revoke Rhodesia's invitation to the Games. …

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