Recalling the Challenge Mounted By Oppressed Sportspeople Against Apartheid In Sport By Cheryl Roberts

24 Oct


It was 50 years ago, in 1958 that the South African Sports Association (SASA), a pioneering, fierce, out-spoken, anti-apartheid sports structure was initiated and founded to oppose discrimination in South African sport.

As the apartheid project was designed and implemented throughout the 1950’s and spread its tentacles to include legislation and policies that would protect white sports people and discriminate against black (all people not white in SA) people in sport, oppressed people retaliated with rage and resistance that would counter the apartheid policies.

Organised sport structures existed in the 1950’s, with efficient administration and officialdom. It was the oppressed sports officials in sports such as football, weightlifting, women’s hockey, cricket, table tennis, cricket, tennis that gathered and steered into action the momentum that would propel apartheid South Africa onto the world’s sports stages and into international sports forums. From the late 1950’s, because of apartheid, oppression and unjust laws, South African sport became an international issue contesting ground and challenge.

The horrendous apartheid regime had left sport untouched and alone in terms of it’s horrific and disastrous apartheid legislation. But when the anti-apartheid, largely black membership internationally-affiliated South African Table Tennis Board wanted to play in an international table tennis event, the apartheid regime stepped up and declined the oppressed national team their passports to travel.

In 1956 the first state intervention appeared regarding sports legislation within the apartheid framework. Within the oppressed sports network, officialdom placed their foresight and vision on meeting tables and decided to try and gain international recognition for all sports federations that represented mostly black and oppressed people. It was in 1956 that the South African Table Tennis Board got authentic international membership ahead of its white South African counterpart. This membership allowed the SATTB acceptance into international events whilst the white table tennis structure was denied this membership.

Also in 1956-157, the Co-ordinated Committee For International Relations in Sport was formed to gather support for black, oppressed, anti-apartheid, non-racial sports structures to gain international recognition. This was initiated by anti-apartheid sport federations and sport officials.

The first indications of apartheid South Africa being internationally isolated, in the 1950’s, were beginning to take root when both the South African Sports Association (SASA) supported by the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League called upon the West Indies to cancel their men’s cricket tour of South Africa although this tour was to play against an oppressed men’s cricket team. This decision was taken so the apartheid regime would not get positive media publicity and positive attention for allowing such a sports event in the interest of oppressed sport. The West Indies men’s cricket team, led by the legendary cricketer Frank Worrell, listened to the calls from the oppressed not to tour apartheid SA and cancelled their planned tour of a country where the minority white population oppressed the black majority population.

The Co-ordinated Committee For International Relations In Sport grew into a fierce voice for oppressed people in people and eventually led to the coming together of all oppressed sports structures/federations for the establishment of a national co-ordinating sports structure and voice that would organize and develop sport in oppressed communities and schools and would be the challenge against apartheid in sport.

This national representative sports structure became know as the South African Sports Association and had as its leaders mostly men sports officials such as MN Pather, Dennis Brutus, Dan Twala, Mr Ranginsamy. There were many women and men anti-apartheid sports volunteers and officials in many sports (I’m just mentioning a few national leaders here). The women officials operated in sport within a patriarchal system where men were seen as ‘the leaders’, ‘the best and clever administrators’ and were accorded official positions because of prevailing patriarchal  people’s mindsets. Women sports officials existed and played pivotal and supporting roles in catering and typing of meeting procedure.

SASA became a powerful, fierce anti-apartheid voice. The apartheid regime retaliated with its apartheid security apparatus against SASA as it became known that SASA existed to advance sport in oppressed communities and oppressed people, that SASA was intent on blackballing apartheid, white sport and exposing SA’s apartheid policies in society and sport. For their opposition to apartheid’s oppression and unjust laws and apartheid’s support for whites-only sport, SASA was viciously attacked by the apartheid regime with bannings, security harassment, raids on offices, arrests of SASA’s oppressed officials.

In 1959 SASA held its inaugural conference. The SATTB was going to play in the 1959 world table tennis championship after having historically participated in the 1957 event and at the 11th hour, the apartheid regime’s Minister of Interior, opted to withdraw visas of the oppressed table tennis team.

SASA knew the apartheid project of controlling oppressed sports people was steaming ahead. SASA fought back by calling on global sports structures such as the International Olympic Committtee (IOC) and Federation of International Football (FIFA) to expel white and apartheid SA from international sports membership. SASA rallied support from sympathetic and listening countries but white SA remained in world sport because of largely European and North American domination of world sport.

Into the early 60’s, with SASA’s leadership being attacked and constrained by apartheid’s security mechanisms, liberation organisation, the ANC publicly declared its support for anti-apartheid sport and condemned white sport for supporting apartheid in SA.  ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli who was an anti-apartheid football administrator also called for the expulsion of racist, apartheid, white South African sport from international sport.  And in 1962, SASA took a decision to call for SA’s expulsion from the IOC and set a letter to the IOC requesting such expulsion from the IOC as a demand from South Africa’s oppressed sportspeople. In 1963, SASA evolved into the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC).

We recall the formation, existence and voice of SASA because it was this opposition to anti-apartheid sport that fought the apartheid regime, rallied for discrimination to be removed from South African sport and for white privilege to be called out. We must never forget the anti-apartheid struggles and pivotal contribution of anti-apartheid sport in fighting for liberation from apartheid. And white people who never opposed apartheid, who benefited from apartheid sport must know that we still know and will never forget.

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