‘Without sport the story of apartheid South Africa cannot be told’ – Sir Trevor McDonald
Siya Kolisi lifted the 2019 Rugby World Cup in a landmark moment for post-apartheid South Africa.
Born into poverty in the township of Zwide near Port Elizabeth, Kolisi, the first black captain of the Springboks, led a team more representative of his country than ever before to a third World Cup victory in Japan.
But the defining image of Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup surrounded by a multi-racial South African team would never have been possible without the Stop the Tour protests, an initiative which helped change the course of the anti-apartheid movement.
Stop the Tour, an instalment in BT Sport’s award-winning series of feature-length documentaries, is the story of how sport changed South Africa and why it was needed.
The film showcases the powerful impact that protest movements had and is a reminder of the symbiotic relationship that binds sport and society.
It is a moving account of the personal battles that surrounded the fight against racism, both from the protest side – led by Peter Hain and involving prime ministers Gordon Brown (UK), Bob Hawke (Australia) and Helen Clark (New Zealand) – and also the sporting side, looking into the careers of fast bowler Mike Proctor, Welsh rugby legend John Taylor and the greatest non-white rugby player never to play for the Springboks, Faghmie Solomons.
Sport reflected the system of apartheid in South Africa. Black South Africans played in townships on inferior pitches, while white people enjoyed well-manicured pitches, usually husbanded by black workers.
The racial stratification was enforced by a police state – a huge edifice of ruthless power underpinning a racist system. Everything from school curriculums to the radio network was state controlled.
Rugby and cricket were symbols of white supremacy and after the horrific repression of the African National Congress - notably the Sharpeville massacre of 1960, in which 69 black Africans were killed by police during a peaceful protest - the battle lines for the anti-apartheid movement were drawn on the sporting field.
The Stop the Tour protests, which were conceived and organised by Hain, successfully disrupted the Springbok rugby tour of 1969 and forced the cancellation and banning of South African sport internationally for decades.
Hain was an advocate of direct action: disrupting high-profile, often televised, sporting events to draw attention to the cause.
His movement was bolstered by the case of cricketer Basil D’Oliveira.
D’Oliveira, a mixed-race South African, had represented England in Test cricket since 1966. The controversy related to England’s 1968-69 tour of South Africa and D’Oliveira’s potential inclusion in the touring party.
Despite his impressive form in the 1968 Ashes series, D’Oliveira was omitted from the squad after a secret deal was made between the South African and England bosses. He was belatedly included as an injury replacement but the affair intensified the burgeoning anti-apartheid sentiment in Britain.
Shortly after the D’Oliveira controversy there were widespread protests during the 1969-70 rugby tour of Britain and Ireland.
South Africa played 26 games during the tour and were greeted by formidable activism at every ground.
The tour became the domestic crisis of the year and the fallout reverberated around the world.
John Lennon, the Beatles' iconic frontman, even promised to pay the fines issued to activists who disrupted the Springboks’ match against Scotland at Murrayfield (a demonstration organised by future British prime minister Gordon Brown).
The mass movement developed all over the social spectrum and in 1971 an international sports boycott was issued to South Africa.
Although South Africa had been made a sporting pariah in the 1970s, New Zealand Rugby proposed a highly contentious Springbok tour in 1981. Prime minister Robert Muldoon’s refusal to stop the tour led to unprecedented civil disorder, leaving the nation teetering on the brink of civil war.
In cricket, so-called rebel tours were staged between 1982 and 1990. They were conducted in spite of the express disapproval of the authorities. The first major tour was led by Graham Gooch in March 1982.
The travelling players were subject to universal outrage. They were labelled ‘the Dirty Dozen’ by MPs and a major national newspaper screamed ‘good luck and good riddance to the rebels’.
The final tour of the decade coincided with Nelson Mandela’s release from prison and the gradual erosion of apartheid. The rebel tours were finally stopped after months of negotiations.
Mandela became prime minister after the first multi-racial election in 1994 and presided over a period of international reconciliation and national healing.
Economic apartheid still exists in South Africa today. Townships are still segregated by colour and whites dominate the wealthy class.
But without the Stop the Tour protests, South Africa would never have seen a multi-racial team, captained by a black man born into destitution, rule the rugby world once again.
If you like Stop the Tour, you’ll love:
Two Tribes: This superb documentary explores Liverpool and Everton’s success in the 1980s amid political and cultural upheaval.
Shoulder to Shoulder: Shoulder to Shoulder explores rugby’s unique unifying power on the island of Ireland. Brian O'Driscoll takes viewers on a personal journey across Irish sporting and political history.