SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
August 03, 1981
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August 03, 1981


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Once again there's talk of an Olympic boycott—this time of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The immediate cause of the trouble is the scheduled 16-match tour of New Zealand undertaken last week by a South African national rugby team, the Springboks, over the protests of black African nations that have long sought to punish South Africa for its apartheid policies, in part by isolating it from international sports competition. South Africa has been drummed out of both the Olympics and Davis Cup play. Further, black African nations boycotted the 1976 Games to protest the Olympic participation of New Zealand, which had sent a rugby team to South Africa earlier that year.

Despite these precedents, New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon declined to block the Springboks' tour of his rugby-mad country. No sooner did the tour begin than the trouble did, too. There were protest marches throughout New Zealand as well as violent clashes that pitted anti-apartheid demonstrators against police and rugby fans, resulting in the cancellation of one match and prompting the government at one point to consider scrapping the rest of the tour. Then there was the angry reaction of black African nations, which hinted that if New Zealand isn't punished for welcoming the Springboks by being expelled from the 1982 Commonwealth Games and the '84 Olympics, the Africans would boycott those events.

A storm over the Springboks may also be brewing in the U.S. The South Africans arrived in New Zealand via a circuitous route, including stopovers in New York and Los Angeles, after Australia and other countries refused to grant them landing rights. Besides letting the Springboks use the U.S. for transit, the State Department has issued visas allowing them to play matches in September in Chicago, Albany, N.Y. and New York City, appearances that will certainly be greeted by demonstrators and provoke the further wrath of black Africans, thereby greatly increasing the likelihood of their boycotting the L.A. Games.

Powerless to intervene directly because rugby is a non-Olympic sport, International Olympic Committee officials could only express their dismay last week at the willingness of the Reagan Administration to admit the Springboks. "They've taken leave of their senses," IOC Director Monique Berlioux told SI Geneva correspondent Robert Kroon. "We've seen the Africans boycott Montreal because of New Zealand's chumminess with the South African rugbymen. Now it's the host country that's inviting them. If this tour isn't canceled, the damage to Los Angeles may be enormous."

A year ago Berlioux and other IOC leaders objected to the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics by piously insisting that sports and politics don't mix; now they're urging cancellation of a sports event for political reasons. But if the IOC is guilty of inconsistency, the U.S. would be similarly inconsistent if, having boycotted an Olympics to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, it now dared argue that politics be left out of sports. The admission of a national South African team—as distinct from the individual South African athletes who sometimes compete in the U.S.—would itself be a highly charged political act, one that would undermine a concerted international effort to ostracize South Africa as punishment for policies of racial superiority that black Africans rightly consider an abomination. Besides smacking of racial insensitivity, allowing the Springboks to tour the U.S. would be foolhardy for purely practical reasons: It would risk the wrecking of an Olympics for the sake of three rugby matches.

Officials of the USOC and the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee have their fingers crossed that if the Springbok tour of the U.S. takes place, the resulting controversy will blow over by 1984. But like Berlioux, they would be happier if the tour simply didn't come off. Last week USOC President William E. Simon, who occupied Cabinet-level posts in the Nixon and Ford Administrations, urged American rugby officials to reconsider their invitation to the Springboks, and it's easy to imagine that Simon and the well-connected Southern Californians who are putting on the '84 Olympics will try to use their influence to persuade the Reagan Administration to block the tour. In deciding to grant visas to the Springboks, the State Department said it had "no grounds for not admitting them." In fact, it has wide discretion to withhold visas, witness the cat-and-mouse game the U.S. and South Africa have long played in denying and canceling visas to each other's journalists, educators and government personnel. It would be an easy matter to play that same game with visas for visiting rugby teams.


Because of the nation's sagging housing market, some contractors and home owners have lately tried to dispose of slow-moving houses by raffling them off. Now comes Jack Large of Allentown, Pa. with a new wrinkle. Unable to find a suitable buyer for his $65,000 Cape Cod-style house, Large decided to let would-be owners run for it. The result is a half marathon, scheduled to be held in Allentown on Oct. 4, in which Large's house will be the top prize.

Large, 43, used to sell Cadillacs for a living and now runs an advertising agency. It's the only running he does. Despite his lack of background in road racing, he hit on the idea of staging the 13.1-miler as a way of getting around legal problems he feared would be involved in simply raffling off the house. Now all he has to do is come to grips with the rules governing amateurism in running. As Large has it figured, professional runners who enter his race will vie for cash prizes totaling $10,000, but only amateurs will be eligible for the house and other prizes, including motorcycles and a car. He seems not overly concerned that 1) competing for a $65,000 house might compromise one's amateur standing and 2) there are potential problems involved in putting amateurs and professionals in the same race.

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