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Desmond Tutu: Sports boycott crucial to ending apartheid

Many of you will remember how effective the sports boycott of the 1970s and 1980s was in conveying to sport-crazy South Africans that our society had placed itself beyond the pale by continuing to organise its life on the basis of racial discrimination.

Your refusal to kow-tow to racism was the sanction that hurt the supporters of apartheid the most, and for those of us who suffered the effects of discrimination nothing could have shown us more vividly the principal value enshrined in the preamble to the Spirit of Cricket, which Lord Cowdrey and Ted Dexter later helped to introduce to the laws of the game, the value of which is all the more powerful for the simplicity of its statement, and that of course is fair play.

For 20 years, as the sports boycott tightened and apartheid stopped generations of South African sportsmen and women, both white and black, realising their full potential, you and others like you drummed into us what the world saw as fair play and what it saw as unfair play.

I have not the slightest doubt that what you did played a major role in persuading the supporters of apartheid to change their ways and, in the negotiations that followed F.W. de Klerk’s courageous decision to release Nelson Mandela in 1990, to agree on a constitution based on the principle, also enshrined in the Spirit of Cricket, of respect for others.

There have been those who have loved the dichotomies that try to divide life into watertight compartments – religion, politics, sport – imagining fondly that they were watertight and impervious to one another. But we know differently: politics impinges on sport as much as on any other aspect of life.

We know that politics and sport have an important relationship. We indicated that the sports boycott played a crucial part in our liberation, and now sport is playing a pivotal part in helping to build South Africa up to be the rainbow nation.

From a speech given by the Most Reverend Dr. Desmond Tutu at Lord's Cricket Ground in June 2008. See the full text here.