Ramsamy recalls bitter battles with rugby boards

Director Clint Eastwood includes a scene in his film Invictus to demonstrate the opposition among black sports administrators to the Springbok rugby jersey and emblem.

In the movie, former president Nelson Mandela narrowly wins grudging approval from the National Sports Council to retain the symbols of the apartheid era as part of his strategy to reach out to the minority Afrikaners.

The meeting and Mandela’s eloquent address are not mentioned in the book Playing the Enemy on which the film is based.

According to former anti-apartheid campaigner Sam Ramsamy the opposition had existed but by 1995, the year of South Africa’s World Cup triumph, Mandela had already won over the dissenters with extensive one-to-one meetings.

“There was no opposition to what Mandela said, we all accepted that,” Ramsamy said in a telephone interview with Reuters. “It was Mandela’s wish. There was overwhelming support, I wouldn’t say for the Springbok emblem, but there was overwhelming support for what Mandela was doing.”


Ramsamy, 72, now a member of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) executive board, was chairman of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee while in exile during the later apartheid years.

He pulls no punches when he recounts the long fight to convince the rugby world that racially selected sides were morally wrong.

Tough time
“Rugby union to us as part of the movement to deracialise sport in South Africa was the most resistant, the most conservative and the International Rugby Board [IRB] did not help us at all,” he said.

“In fact they sabotaged all our efforts in the early stages. They were not any help at all, they were a great hindrance. We had a very tough time with the rugby people internationally. The individual boards were as difficult as the rugby board itself.”

Ramsamy, who led the South African delegation to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics after the republic was re-admitted to the Olympic movement, said the feeling then was that the Springbok emblem should play no part in the new South Africa.

“And then of course when Mandela came in he said: ‘No, we have to make sure we are inclusive and the Springbok emblem means quite a lot to white South Africans and especially Afrikaner rugby players’,” Ramsamy said.

“Mandela said we need to make it inclusive … in fact I had an extremely long meeting with Mandela at his official residence in Pretoria and he explained the circumstances.

“I made it very clear in principle I don’t want the Springboks but now that you’ve decided on this and you’ve explained the situation, we go along with it. Most of the black South African administrators had an identical view to me.

Mandela’s stance was triumphantly vindicated by the Springboks’ victory in the World Cup final and this year South Africa will host the continent’s first soccer World Cup, a vision which helped to sustain Ramsamy in exile.

“My dream wasn’t only to see the soccer World Cup in South Africa. We also had the dream of staging the Olympic Games in South Africa,” he said.

Still much to be done
However, Ramsamy said, there was still much work to be done at home.

“Blacks in South Africa have done so much to reconcile with the whites. But I don’t know whether all whites have understood and accepted this magnanimity of forgiveness and acceptance.

“We are trying to normalise the situation but I’m not sure all South African whites understand that. That is a concern of mine. Moves are being made to ensure equal opportunities for all but it’s coming very, very slowly.

“Until now most of the South African teams in most sports, with the exception of football and maybe track and field and boxing, are represented by white South Africa. The white South African population is less than 20% of the whole South African population and we are doing very well. But can you imagine how well we would do if we provided the same opportunities for the other 80% of the population?

“We would have a tremendous, super team which very few countries in the world could beat.

“That is our ultimate goal. I said after I came back to South Africa that, after opportunities are provided for all and if the team is all white or the team is all black or if it is half white, half black it is still the South African team.

“That is my ambition and my ultimate goal.” — Reuters

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