As I write this article, the England cricket team is commencing its tour of India. The speculation surrounding the tour has been ended by the Indian government's decision that it may proceed, because it is satisfied that two players selected for England, whilst having had some association with cricket in South Africa, are opposed to the apartheid system enforced by the government.
The cricket world received this decision with a sense of infinite relief. Had the Indian government not given their approval, the tour would have been cancelled by the UK cricket authorities. What then? New Zealand had indicated that they would host the England team. In the same season, Australia were also touring New Zealand. Would India then feel they could no longer play New Zealand, because that country had accepted players who had some links, however remote, with South Africa? Would India feel likewise about Australia, who had visited New Zealand who had played England, whose selected team was not acceptable in India? Would a chain reaction spread throughout the cricket world, threatening those long-standing ties and friendly associations that have been the product of visits frequently exchanged?
In retrospect, cricket - indeed all sport - should be deeply indebted to Mrs Gandhi and her government: in expressing continued opposition to the discriminatory laws of South Africa, and at the same time taking the view that sportsmen and supporters should not be penalised, India has set an example which, if followed, could solve many of the problems confronting cricket in particular and sport in general.
Cricket has had its share of traumatic experiences in recent years. In 1977, World Series Cricket was launched and the game suffered until peace was made. The after-effects, some good, some bad, continue to pose problems. Today, however, the major area of concern centres around boycotts, blacklists, and who will or will not play one another. In 1981, a Test match was cancelled in the West Indies because Guyana refused entry to Robin Jackman. Worse still, the West Indies Board of Control advised the New Zealand Cricket Council that their team would not be welcome in 1982 - not for cricket reasons, but because a rugby tour by a multi-racial team of South Africans was taking place in New Zealand.
This exposes the heart of the issue - South Africa and its policies. A rugby tour of South Africa by New Zealand in 1976 led to the withdrawal of some African nations from the Montreal Olympics, and the Commonwealth Heads of Government, no doubt in an effort to prevent a repetition at the Edmonton Games in 1978, came up with the controversial Gleneagles Declaration in June 1977. This declaration is headed Apartheid in Sport. Different interpretations have given rise to endless controversy, much of it still continuing.
From 1970, maybe earlier, sporting bodies had required that South Africa meet the dual criteria of multi-racial sport from club level upwards, and selection on merit. If those conditions were met, South African teams would be accepted at international level.
If the Gleneagles agreement, with all its imperfections, was intended to apply to apartheid in sport, one would expect that the agreement would not apply when apartheid - surely meaning racial discrimination - in sport no longer existed. Cricket in South Africa could, by September 1977, claim one governing body democratically born by common consent and representing the black, white, and coloured racial groups. The constitution of the South African Cricket Union can leave no doubt as to the intent to provide multi-racial cricket, selection on merit, and a sharing of facilities on all grounds on a common basis. However, since the formation of the South African Cricket Union (SACU), the politically motivated South African Cricket Board (SACB), aligned to the South African Council on Sport (SACOS), has been created as an alternative body, claiming to be non-racial, but with its primary purpose to isolate South Africa from international cricket.
So again the political motive determines attitudes towards sport. The target of those who see sport as a means to an end is the South African government, whose laws are unacceptable to the world in general. There is a widespread desire to enforce change, and to put pressure on South Africa through the isolation of their sportsmen and women, and sports administrative bodies. Governments and anti-apartheid groups never seem to clarify their demands by setting out the precise requirements to be met by either the South African government or the sporting bodies concerned. Gleneagles mentions the detestable policy of apartheid, but does not define apartheid. Does the word mean separate development, or the laws which discriminate against non-whites?
It seems to me that the matter of separate development is for the determination of those who reside in Southern Africa. There is evidence that some ethnic groups prefer separate development and that others do not. If the word apartheid is used in the context of discriminatory laws, there can be no doubt that these are not acceptable, offensive as they are to human dignity.
I have personally opposed all forms of racial discrimination and will continue to do so. I opposed the New Zealand rugby tour of South Africa in 1960, because Maoris were excluded. This was racial discrimination by New Zealanders against New Zealanders. I was also totally opposed to the decision of the South African government to refuse to accept Basil D'Oliveira as a member of the England team in 1968. In 1973, when Chairman of the New Zealand Cricket Council, I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time officers of the South African Cricket Association, the former administrative body for white South African cricketers. I indicated that I could support South African cricket only when they achieved multi-racial cricket with selection on merit. They attained this in 1977, and having done so deserve the recognition and encouragement of not only every fair-minded cricket administrator, but of all who oppose racial prejudice.
Independent reports issued by several fact-finding delegations establish that many other sports bodies within South Africa have had similar success in their efforts to provide equal opportunities and integrated sport for members of all ethnic groups. One may well ask, what more is required of the South African Cricket Union and similar national sporting bodies who have rejected discrimination? The discriminatory laws which have been the root cause of many cricket's problems have been successfully opposed by the South African Cricket Union, who have been in the forefront of the battle for equality in the area in which they exercise most influence - on the cricket field. They can take much of the credit for the fact that practically all barriers to racially mixed sport in South Africa, above school age, have now been removed.
The sporting world has, I believe, had enough of the sabotage of the Olympic Games by those who disrupt them for political reasons, as at Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980. If this pattern continues, sport will become fragmented, and true international sport will not survive. Even now it is under such threat that none can predict who will take part in the Commonwealth Games in 1982 or the Olympics in 1984. All international sports bodies will have to look seriously at what the future holds for their sport. Disciplinary action may be required against those who, without adequate reason, surrender the opportunity to participate. But in the true spirit of sport, no country wishing to take part should be denied the right.
The International Cricket Conference represents the cricketers of the world. Its future can only be threatened if members allow themselves to be involved in politics rather than cricket. To be truly effective body, it must encourage the development of the game wherever it is played. It must be aware of the problems of member countries, but always believe that sporting contacts, especially through cricket, can be the catalyst in resolving such problems. To revert to the cricket scene in South Africa, I would hope that unity between the two cricket administrations can be effected. With the goodwill and support of all cricketers, greater influence will be possible, and will demonstrate that cricket knows no barriers and sets the highest example of integrated sport, so providing the platform for closer cooperation in the wider spheres of everyday life embracing social, cultural and economic activities.
I would urge that where there are difficulties, let there be understanding; where there is division, let there be dialogue; where there are differences, let there be reconciliation. Cricket, indeed all sport, has much to offer. May it not be misused, but left alone to play its natural role in providing relaxation and pleasure for those who would play and follow it.