“Playing With Apartheid”: Irish and South African Rugby, 1964–19891

in Sport History Review
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  • 1 California State University Northridge
  • 2 University of Johannesburg
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The struggle against apartheid was fought on many fronts. Internationally, the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) across a number of countries engaged in a range of activities that highlighted the atrocities of the Pretoria regime and the plight of the majority in South Africa. An important site of struggle against apartheid was in the sports sphere. Ireland and the Irish AAM played a significant role in this regard. The AAMs in Australia, Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States, among others, recorded victories against apartheid through demonstrations, boycotts, and the ban on participation of South African teams in international tours, tournaments, and events. A number of scholars have highlighted the role of the international AAM and its campaigns against apartheid sport. To date, historical studies of the anti-apartheid struggle and South African sport have primarily focused on Britain and New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Irish sporting contacts with South Africa extend back over a century. Thus, focusing on the case study of Irish AAM activism against segregated sport further adds to the literature on the sports boycott and the struggle against apartheid. This article draws on Jacob Dlamini’s notion of “moral agents” in understanding players’, teams’, and sports associations’ decisions to continue to play with apartheid, despite international opposition. Drawing from archives in Ireland and South Africa, this article adds new details to the struggle against apartheid rugby in South African sport between 1964 and 1989.

Bolsmann (chris.bolsmann@csun.edu) is with the Department of Kinesiology, California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA, USA; and the Department of Sociology, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.