Despite the Barbarians' specially tailored composition, Ireland, where the team also had hoped to play, refused it entry. The British government, however, ruled that it had no power to stop the tour. It looked as if it would be 1969 all over again.
There were even comic overtones. One tactic of the protesters, it was rumored, would be to disrupt play by releasing rabbits onto the field. "If they do that," said John Lawrence, a member of the British Rugby Union Tours Committee, "we shall release ferrets." Joking aside, Hain, now chairman of the Stop All Racial Tours organization, declared, "We intend the maximum possible disruption to the tour. We will be there from the moment they arrive at the airport, on the coach journeys, at the matches...all the signs are that we are in for an action replay of the 1969 tour."
However, when the Barbarians deplaned last week, no serious demonstration took place at Heathrow Airport. But then the visitors' bus mysteriously caught fire, and the anti-apartheid campaign appeared to have started. No, a mechanic said. A cam rod had snapped, and hot oil had spurted onto the engine.
And so to the first game at Exeter. "Exeter?" a rugby buff might legitimately have asked. The city is far from the heartland of the sport. The locals prefer soccer, and the stand at the County Ground holds a mere 1,500. The Rugby Union might have had its reasons, though. The somewhat sleepy county of Devon is not known for its passionate political convictions. Further, the only approaches to the County Ground were by way of small streets of old row houses that are easy to block and control.
In any case, the procession of three to four hundred that appeared an hour before the game seemed to be no storming party. Ten years earlier, in Dublin, 10,000 protesters showed up at a match against the Springboks and the game had to be held behind barbed wire. Now there was little more than decorous chanting and singing. The demonstrators had the look of local people. One boy said, "My dad's come to watch the game, and I'm here to demonstrate." No rent-a-crowd toughies from London, no hardened activists. A girl was horrified at the suggestion she might go in to see the match: "It wouldn't be right. And I'm not insured."
That is not precisely the stuff martyrs are made of, but finally, 10 minutes into the game, the spirit of '69 evinced itself. The little field was lined with cops, one every 10 feet or so, facing away from the game, into the crowd. But suddenly a banner was waving and nine demonstrators, led by a girl, were running onto the field.
They stood no chance. The crowd howled at them. "Stamp on the bastards!" a voice screamed. In no more than two minutes, all of the demonstrators had been dragged off, passively inert, by the police to waiting paddy wagons. The police called up reinforcements, plainly expecting a second wave. It never came. Meanwhile, in a dull drizzle, the Barbarians won the match 27-18. The only revelation of the afternoon was that the South Africans had a fine colored fly-half—roughly equivalent to a quarterback on a football team—named Errol Tobias. And also—maybe—that the anti-apartheid movement in Britain had lost its impetus.
Not really. Next day, at the small hotel he owns near London's Marble Arch, Chris de Broglio, a 49-year-old former South African weight-lifting champion, brushed aside the fact that the Exeter demonstration had been so feeble. He is secretary of SANROC, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, an organization that was forced to move from Johannesburg to London in 1966.
De Broglio, a white, has very much bigger fish to fry than disrupting games in the West Country, and he had important news. This week, he declared, SANROC's black chairman, Sam Ramsamy, will fly to Yaoundé, in Cameroon, to meet with Jean Claude Ganga, the powerful secretary-general of the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa.
"We are going to teach the British a lesson," de Broglio said. SANROC's first proposal will be that all African countries, and as many third world nations as can be mustered, should break off sporting relations with Britain; no athletes from the protesting countries would go to Britain, and no British athletes would be permitted to compete in those countries. Moreover, all African delegates to international sports bodies will be instructed to block the election of British officials. And all the participating countries will be asked to ensure that there will be no contracts for British coaches in their sphere of influence, an action aimed mainly at the Persian Gulf states that employ a number of soccer coaches.