South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games

The International Olympic Committee banned South African athletes from the Olympic Games beginning in 1964 because of South Africa’s system of apartheid. The ban remained in effect until the games of 1992, when South Africa began dismantling its apartheid regime.

Summary of Event

The International Olympic Committee International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1964 was one of many international sporting organizations taking a stand against apartheid in sports in South Africa. When IOC chair Avery Brundage announced to the world press that the IOC had voted to ban South Africa from the Winter Games in Innsbruck, the topic of racial segregation reached the world. The IOC proposal, presented by India, led to the exclusion of South Africa from the games through 1968. It was again excluded in 1970. Along with expulsions from most international sports bodies, the suspension remained in effect until 1991, when the IOC readmitted South Africa in time for the 1992 games in Barcelona. Olympic Games;South African ban
South Africa;banned from Olympic Games
[kw]South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games (Aug. 18, 1964)
[kw]Olympic Games, South Africa Is Banned from the (Aug. 18, 1964)
Olympic Games;South African ban
South Africa;banned from Olympic Games
[g]Africa;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[g]Europe;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[g]South Africa;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[g]Switzerland;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[c]Human rights;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[c]Social issues and reform;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[c]Sports;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Aug. 18, 1964: South Africa Is Banned from the Olympic Games[08150]
Brutus, Dennis
Harris, John
Brundage, Avery

From 1948 until the early 1990’s, South Africa was governed by a regime committed to a type of racial segregation of land, jobs, and opportunities known as apartheid. South Africans were classified according to racial categories of white, “colored” (meaning of mixed race), Asian (meaning of Indian descent), and black. Apartheid in sports prevented black and other nonwhite athletes from legally competing with white South Africans and eventually from all competition abroad.

T. E. Dounges Dounges, T. E. , South Africa’s minister of the interior, issued a statement in 1956 stating that the government did not control sports, and that whites and nonwhites should organize sports separately. Government support, he emphasized, would be withheld from organizations and passports would not be granted to individuals who challenged sports segregation. The policy prevented black South Africans from Olympic competition.

Although there had been earlier international action against apartheid in sport, the IOC’s decision to ban South Africa reflected a united approach by organizations inside as well as outside South Africa to promote nonsegregated competition. In 1955, Dennis Brutus, a South African athlete who was not white, discovered that the International Olympic charter forbids racial discrimination or any discrimination on the basis of color, religion, or politics. Brutus had served as a founding secretary for the South African Sports Association South African Sports Association (SASA), which was formed in 1958 to fight racism in sport and to encourage international recognition of the many nonracial sports bodies in South Africa. Brutus began working with the nonracial sporting associations in South Africa to apply pressure to international organizations. During apartheid, organizations of this type were illegal. Furthermore, laws restricted public gatherings, and halls and hotels were mostly “whites only.”

SASA tried to counter racial discrimination by appealing to the IOC in Rome in 1959, but it was unsuccessful in winning their support. The IOC president, Brundage, was impressed by Brutus’s and SASA’s efforts and realized that apartheid would have to be addressed by the IOC. However, SASA could not persuade other white South African sports associations to abandon their “whites-only” policies.

To reach the international sports community, a new organization called the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee[South African Nonracial Olympic Committee] (SANROC) was formed by black athletes, administrators, and associations. By this time, the apartheid regime had a regular practice of refusing passports to athletes who were not affiliated with white sports bodies in the country. International competition was thus closed to nonwhites as well as to nonracial competition within the country.

One of the first international actions against apartheid in sport took place in 1963, after South African officials banned a “nonwhite” golfer from participating in tournaments there. The athlete, Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum Sewgolum, Sewsunker , was shown in a photograph accepting a trophy for winning the Natal Open Golf Championship in South Africa. International readers saw a telling image of Sewgolum receiving his trophy in heavy rain outside the clubhouse; only white golfers were allowed inside the clubhouse. Because of his participation in a segregated sporting event, Sewsunker was punished by being banned from all South African golf tournaments. After the ban, the British Anti-Apartheid Movement British Anti-Apartheid Movement[British Antiapartheid Movement] sent appeals to Olympic committees around the world and to other sports associations, asking them to exclude apartheid-supporting teams from international competition.

Already in 1961, the SASA had passed a resolution asking the IOC to expel South Africa from the Olympic Games. Later that year, Brutus was prohibited from meeting with more than one person at a time in any place, public or private, in South Africa. The government hoped that the ban would prevent Brutus from attending the IOC meeting in Moscow in 1962, and the ban worked.

The IOC decided to give South Africa another chance to comply with the Olympic charter. This decision was a crushing blow to nonwhite athletes. On October 7, 1962, however, SANROC was formed to replace the white South African Olympic Committee. Brutus was unable to attend the first meeting, because he was in jail for violating his mandate to not meet with others. Frustrated, he tried to escape from South Africa into Mozambique to make the 1963 Baden-Baden meeting in Germany, but he was intercepted and was returned to jail. John Harris, the president of SANROC, also tried to get to Baden-Baden, but he was arrested as well. Once again, the IOC voted to give South Africa more time to comply.

At the Baden-Baden IOC meeting in October of 1963, the honorary secretary of the movement, Abdul Samad Minty Minty, Abdul Samad , lobbied the delegates on behalf of SANROC, asking them to consider excluding South Africa from the Innsbruck Winter Games Innsbruck Winter Olympics (1964) and the Tokyo Summer Games in 1964. The IOC agreed, and then threatened to ban South Africa from the games. The (white) South African Olympic Games Association responded with a proposal to include black athletes in merit selection for the South African Olympic team, but that in making those selections there would be no direct competition with whites. Such “mixed” competition, they insisted, would violate government policy. On the question of what it would do if the separate Olympic trials resulted in identical scores or times, the association responded that it would conduct tests in a medical laboratory to determine which athlete was the better athlete.

At the IOC meeting in Innsbruck in 1964, the delegates were under considerable pressure, especially from African and Asian delegates, to suspend South Africa. Again, South Africa was given more time and a new deadline of August, 1964. South Africa held Olympic trials separately for whites and nonwhites. Interior Minister Jan de Klerk De Klerk, Jan issued a statement in which he clarified that nonwhites could not represent South Africa officially in international competition. If nonwhites qualified to compete in the international games, they would have to travel separately, wear different uniforms, and could not compete in the same events as whites.

On August 18 in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC officially withdrew its invitation to South Africa to participate in the Innsbruck Winter Games. With the withdrawal came a statement to the press renouncing all race discrimination in sport.


Several nations still held loyalties to South Africa, and the suspension was lifted in 1968. However, many newly independent African countries forced the IOC to reimpose the suspension, and South Africa was again expelled from the games in May, 1970.

In September, 1990, IOC president Juan Samaranch Samaranch, Juan spoke to the Stockholm International Conference against Apartheid in Sport, persuading those in attendance that democracy was coming to South Africa. Nelson Mandela Mandela, Nelson visited IOC headquarters in Lausanne in March, 1992, and South Africa was readmitted to the Olympics, as well as to international sports competition in general.

International pressure on South Africa eventually created the circumstances under which the apartheid government was dissolved and democracy was created. International sports organizations were key to this change, helping lead the charge. Olympic Games;South African ban
South Africa;banned from Olympic Games

Further Reading

  • Booth, Douglas. The Race Game: Sport and Politics in South Africa. Portland, Oreg.: F. Cass, 1998. Historical outline of racially charged sports events from the 1950’s through the late 1990’s. Addresses the issue of the 1964 Olympics ban and the establishment of SANROC.
  • Krotee, March “The Apartheid and Sport: South Africa Revisited.” Sociology of Sport Journal 5 (1988): 125-135. Sociological commentary on the repressive apartheid practice in South Africa and the response from the international sporting community.
  • Nauright, John. Sport, Cultures, and Identities in South Africa. Washington, D.C.: Leicester University Press, 1997. A history of sports in South Africa, with a focus on the social and cultural aspects of athletics before, during, and after apartheid.
  • Ramsamy, Sam. Apartheid, the Real Hurdle: Sport in South Africa and the International Boycott. London: International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa, 1982. Describes the international sports boycott of South Africa in the context of twentieth century social and political movements against segregated sports.
  • Swart, Kamilla, and Bob Urmilla. “The Seductive Discourse of Development: The Cape Town 2004 Olympic Bid.” Third World Quarterly 25, no. 7 (2004): 1311-1324. Research on the Cape Town bid for the 2008 Olympics, pointing to the apartheid era Olympic ban and sports boycotts as a major hurdle in securing the games for South Africa.
  • Thompson, Leonard Montheath. A History of South Africa. 3d ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. A thorough review of the apartheid era. An indispensable tool for understanding the history of the conflicts in South Africa by a distinguished historian.
  • Youssoufi, Abderrahman. “The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Campaign Against Violations of Human Rights, Apartheid, and Racism.” In Violations of Human Rights. Paris: UNESCO, 1984. Good background on nongovernmental human rights organizations. The author explains what they are and how they operate. Offers concrete discussions of their activities on behalf of human rights, using Amnesty International as illustration.

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