Australia and the issue of apartheid in sport – Fact sheet 255

The United Nations General Assembly declared 1971 the International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, with the aim of achieving substantial progress in eliminating all forms and manifestations of racism and racial discrimination, including the policies of apartheid (racial segregation) practised in South Africa.

The Australian Government readily announced its support, with Prime Minister William McMahon advising the Australian Committee to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination that racism was 'not acceptable to the Australian way of life'.

Sporting links with South Africa

The view expressed by McMahon did not stop continued sporting links between Australian sporting teams and South African teams, which were chosen using a racially-based selection policy. This was highlighted through the winter of 1971 when Australia hosted a tour by the South African rugby team (the Springboks). On the eve of the tour, six Australian players refused to play against a side selected according to race. McMahon asserted their behaviour was a disgrace and vowed the tour would continue.

Australian opinion polls suggested strong support for the tour. But as it progressed the tour was met by trade union bans and levels of civil demonstration and violence previously unknown in Australia. Surprisingly the protests did not cause the cancellation of any games and the Springboks completed the tour undefeated.

The next planned tour by a South African team – the cricket tour scheduled for the summer of 1971–72 – did not proceed. It was cancelled and replaced by a tour of a 'World XI' selection. Sir Donald Bradman, Chairman of the Australian Cricket Board, declared there would be no further cricket tours involving South Africa until their teams were chosen on a non-racial basis.

The Whitlam Labor Government, elected in December 1972, placed a government ban on sporting tours involving South African teams. This was retained by the governments of Malcolm Fraser (1975–83) and Bob Hawke (1983–91). Australia became an important player in moves to isolate South Africa so long as race remained part of its selection policy.

CHOGM 1977 and the Gleneagles Agreement

The 1977 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in London reached agreement on a British Commonwealth response to South Africa’s apartheid policy. Midway through the meeting a small delegation of Commonwealth leaders – Pierre Trudeau (Canada), Michael Manley (Jamaica), Brigadier Shehu Musa Yar'Adua (Nigeria), Mwinyi Aboud Jumbe (Tanzania), and Robert Muldoon (New Zealand) – met with Sonny Ramphal (the Commonwealth Secretary-General) at the Scottish 'retreat' of Gleneagles to formulate the Commonwealth position.

The Gleneagles Agreement, as the statement became known, reaffirmed the Commonwealth leaders' opposition to apartheid (set out in the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles agreed at the 1971 CHOGM in Singapore), and asserted the responsibility of each Commonwealth member to discourage sporting contact with South Africa. Although Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was not one of the Gleneagles delegates, he assented to the Agreement, condemning apartheid and vowing to maintain sanctions, sporting and economic, against the South African regime.

Records relating to Australia and the policy on apartheid in sport

A selection of records relating to the positions of Australia and South Africa on apartheid in sport is listed below.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemSpringboks 1971 rugby tour of Australia1969–71A3211, 1971/1655
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1970–71A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 1
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1971A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 2
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1971A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 3
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1971A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 4
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1971–72A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 5
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1972–73A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 6
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1974–76A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 8
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1976–77A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 9
ItemSouth Africa – relations with Australian sporting teams1977–78A1838, 201/10/10/3 part 10
ItemUnited Nations concern – Africa – apartheid and sport1971–73A1838, 916/1/8 part 1
ItemUnited Nations concern – Africa – apartheid and sport1973–75A1838, 916/1/8 part 2
ItemUnited Nations concern – Africa – apartheid and sport1976–77A1838, 916/1/8 part 5
ItemUnited Nations concern – Africa – apartheid and sport1977A1838, 916/1/8 part 7
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1975–76A1838, 201/5/4 part 4
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1976A1838, 201/5/4 part 5
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1976A1838, 201/5/4 part 6
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1976A1838, 201/5/4 part 7
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1976A1838, 201/5/4 part 8
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1976A1838, 201/5/4 part 9
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1976–77A1838, 201/5/4 part 10
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1977A1838, 201/5/4 part 12
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1977A1838, 201/5/4 part 13
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1977A1838, 201/5/4 part 14
ItemSouth Africa – culture – sport1977A1838, 201/5/4 part 15
ItemCHOGM London June 1977 – minutes of sessions and memoranda1977A2539, B77/000062

Australian Embassy, South Africa (Pretoria)

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemSouth Africa – apartheid in sport1960–71A9421, 206/17 part 1
ItemSouth Africa – Olympic Games – apartheid in sport1968–72A9421, 204/17
ItemSouth Africa – apartheid in sport1972–73A9421, 204/17 part 2

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemApartheid in sport in South Africa1970–73A463, 1972/2657
ItemApartheid in sport in South Africa1973–76A1209, 1973/6671

Cabinet Office

The Rt Hon John Malcolm Fraser AC, CH

Australian Broadcasting Commission

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemFour Corners – Protesting Sport [moving image]1971C475, ARCH 02FV/1901
ItemFour Corners – Springboks: Whose Victory? [moving image]1971C475, ARCH 01FV/0195
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2016