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Original Issue


South Africa's campaign to become part of world sport again has been double-pronged. While at home the government has concentrated on easing some of the petty apartheid laws and on developing "multiracial" sport, on the international level it has used a more direct method—the spending of a great deal of money, mainly in luring foreign athletes to break through the web of international boycotts

The source of the money is often clouded. For example, South African Breweries, one of the nation's biggest industrial groups, and its subsidiary company. Southern Suns Hotel Group, undoubtedly are major paymasters. The latter especially is involved in boxing and golf promotions in Sun City, a 5-year-old Las Vegas-like development in the "independent" homeland of Bophuthatswana. (A side effect is that this gives an aura of legitimacy to the homeland concept.) South Africa's Progressive Federal Party, white and in a minority in Parliament, has accused the government of siphoning state funds into Southern Suns. That charge has been denied.

Until this year, though, results had been no better than mixed. Athletes as celebrated as John McEnroe, soccer's Franz Beckenbauer and world heavyweight champion Larry Holmes have reportedly refused huge sums to appear, and some of the "tours" have been disasters Last year's visit by an "international" soccer team aborted halfway through when black pro teams like the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates refused to play it. Also last year, a tour of Sri Lankan cricketers lost half a million dollars.

Only a little more successful was a 1982 "rebel" team of English cricketers, dubbed "The Dirty Dozen" by their own press. Each received $110,000 for six weeks' play, but all were subsequently banned from representing their country for three years. That had unfortunate side effects for the English national team. Badly depleted by the bannings, it took last place in Australia in February in a kind of World Series of the cricketing nations.

But who would have dared forecast that, even while the English team was being pummeled Down Under, undercover negotiations were going on for an all-black West Indian team to undertake a blitz series of 12 games in five weeks in South Africa? At the start it was a cloak-and-dagger story with the side—not the official West Indies team but one containing such stars as Colin Croft, one of the fastest bowlers in the world—assembling in secret in Miami for the flight to Johannesburg.

Even as the program was being announced, it still seemed as if this would be The Tour Least Likely to Succeed. Wouldn't there be black demonstrations, or at any event a boycott? And would hard-line whites be equally insulted?

The answer was no, twice over. For the boycott breakers the tour was a huge success. Though there had been no advance publicity, almost a quarter of a million South Africans paid $1,250,000 to watch. Most were white, but there was no trouble and there was significant black attendance—around 15%. Even such staunch opponents of the government as Hassan Howa confessed he couldn't resist watching the series on TV.

Howa felt that many nonwhites went to games simply in the hope of seeing blacks outplay whites. Even as the tour was announced, at the U.N. in New York a West Indian, Besley Maycock, was chairing yet another meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Drafting of an International Convention Against Apartheid in Sport. It has been working for five years to create an unbreachable, U.N.-backed cordon sanitaire around South African sport. "We are still bogged down on Clause 10," he said.

He was angry that of the 18 West Indians who materialized in Johannesburg, nine were from his native island of Barbados. Later, in his office, he said. "Of course they will never play cricket in the Caribbean again." What happened, though, was that the Barbadian players slipped home with their $110,000 paychecks, and the Barbados Cricket Association has yet to make a decision as to whether they will be banned.

One sanction remaining in the hands of Sam Ramsamy's SAN-ROC and the U.N.'s anti-apartheid committee is the so-called blacklist—the "Register of Sports Contacts with South Africa"—updated twice a year, which seeks to have athletes banned from international competition if they "collaborate" with the South African government by playing in that country. Mostly they are connected with sports like cricket and rugby, because of South Africa's heritage of English games, but the latest list includes Americans Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Billie Jean King, and they could soon be joined by Chris Evert Lloyd and Andrea Jaeger, who are scheduled to play in South Africa this month.

Meanwhile the anti-apartheid Commonwealth Games Federation Code of Conduct, which applies only to the British Commonwealth countries, appears to be wobbling. In March it was declared virtually moribund by the Central Council for Physical Recreation, an advisory body of British sport, in spite of the dangers that implies for the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

Internationally, then, at the moment, with the U.N. bogged down, with the increasing impatience of even liberal-minded sports-people, with the arguably antilibertarian blacklist and, above all, because of South Africa's apparent determination to keep the cash flowing, the conclusion has to be that South Africa has a slight lead over the boycotters.