State, Society, and the Olympic Games in Rhodesia: Domestic and International Responses
White settler-ruled Rhodesia was excluded from the Munich Olympics four days before the Games opened in 1972, and was permanently expelled from the Olympic Movement in 1975. This paper will tie together several strands of recent scholarship, including research on racial discrimination on the playing field in colonial Zimbabwe, and present a theory of sport in white settler societies—sport as a tool of social affinity and acculturation among white settlers themselves and sport as a realm of social control (and contesting that control) between white settlers and black Zimbabweans.
The paper will also present some original research. First, records from the archives of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the United Kingdom reveal a policy of lobbying other Olympic states for Rhodesia’s exclusion from Mexico City in 1968. However, in 1972 the United Kingdom under Heath’s new (Conservative) government lobbied instead for Rhodesia’s inclusion in the Olympics and indeed began a massive diplomatic effort in Munich, in Lausanne, and in the African embassies to prevent a boycott of the Games. Second, the paper will chronicle the political debate in Rhodesia over the decision to send a team to the Olympics, especially the protests by the political right that allowing the Rhodesian team to compete as the team of Southern Rhodesia (RHS) under the Union Jack and “God Save the Queen” (according to the compromise hammered out by the IOC) compromised Rhodesian independence. Finally, the paper will connect the Rhodesian boycott with the 1976 African boycott in the Montreal Olympics in protest of unrepentant New Zealand’s continued sporting contacts with South Africa (and the boycott of the Toronto Paralympics that year over South African participation). The fact that Rhodesia participated as a province of South Africa in cricket and rugby, the two most popular sports in both countries, and continued to field all-white teams in these sports helps explain African outrage against New Zealand. The Montreal boycott—and Canada’s desire to prevent a boycott of the 1977 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Alberta—contributed directly to the Gleneagles Agreement, leading to South Africa’s international sporting isolation.