S. Africa, after 21 years, is readmitted to Olympics

July 10, 1991|By Rone Tempest | Rone Tempest,Los Angeles Times

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- Twenty-one years after it was expelled from Olympic competition for its racially discriminatory policy of apartheid, South Africa won readmission from the International Olympic Committee here yesterday, opening the door for South African athletes to participate in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.

The historic decision, based largely on the South African Parliament's repeal of key apartheid statutes in June, is expected to boost the reform movement of South African President F. W. de Klerk. It is an important step toward ending South Africa's status as a sports pariah, banned from playing fields and arenas around the world.

South Africa last competed in the Olympics with an all-white team in the 1960 Games in Rome. It was formally expelled from the Olympic movement in 1970.

"It is a very important day, not only for the Olympic movement, but for all sports around the world," International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch said yesterday. "I would like to see very soon athletes and players from South Africa taking part in major sports competition around the world."

The committee's "outright recognition" of the multiracial National Olympic Committee of South Africa as a member of the Olympic movement came after a day of talks between the South Africans and the committee's Apartheid and Olympism Commission.

Monitoring the talks were representatives of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa, an international association of black African nations whose approval was considered key to South Africa's Olympics re-entry.

The president of the National Olympic Committees of Africa, Jean-Claude Ganga, described the readmission as "a political decision to help point them [the South Africans] in the right direction."

"We will know we have succeeded," said Mr. Ganga, "when we see a black South African win a race and watch the whites cry when they see their flag raised and their anthem played."

Members of the newly recognized South African National Olympic Committee reacted with cautious optimism. Although the South African committee is blessed by Mr. de Klerk, a reformist president, and has representatives from nearly every major Olympic sport except bobsledding, the new committee has not won total acceptance from hard-core white Afrikaners.

Sam Ramsamy, president of the South African National Olympic Committee, said, "We believe that the recognition we got today will change the backward attitudes of some of the communities in South Africa."

Mr. Ramsamy said that it was at the request of his group that the Olympic Committee's commission studying South Africa's candidacy added a catch phrase to its approval warning the South African government that the approval was subject to a "review" of implementation of other reforms in South African athletics, including remedying the glaring inequalities of facilities in black and white areas.

"We wanted teeth, and the IOC gave us teeth," Mr. Ramsamy said. The message the committee wanted to leave, he indicated, was that as long as South Africa continues on its present path of reform, in sports as well as other domains, it is in line to receive a formal invitation to the Olympic Games along with other Olympic committees worldwide.

"There is still the question of one-man, one-vote to resolve," said South African attorney Issy Kramer, a member of the new National Olympic Committee and president of the nation's swimming association.

Meanwhile, in Washington, administration officials said that President Bush would act later this week to lift U.S. economic sanctions imposed on South Africa in 1986.

Officials said that the president would certify that the South African government had met all the conditions set out in the sanction legislation, which Congress passed over the veto of President Ronald Reagan.

However, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said that Washington would retain a 28-year-old embargo on arms sales to South Africa and that it would continue to honor sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said that Secretary of State James A. Baker III had submitted a report to the White House on the release of political prisoners.

Under the 1986 act, all political prisoners must be set free before the sanctions can be lifted.

Sport is a passion for many South Africans, white and black alike. Before international pressure mounted against them, white South Africa produced world-class rugby and cricket squads. Black athletes excelled in segregated soccer leagues.

But under apartheid, black and white athletes were forbidden to compete side by side. Open trials and competition were prohibited. The athletic potential of millions of blacks was left untapped. The ability of promising white athletes to compete in international arenas was checked by virtue of the government's laws.

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