50 objects 31: South Africa and the 1968 Olympics

This Friday, the 2016 Olympic Games open in Rio. As well as promoting excellence in sport, the Olympic movement has a much wider remit to seek friendship and fair play worldwide.  The IOC states “The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Sometimes that ideal has been hard to reach. In the 1960s there were issues surrounding participation in the Olympic Games by teams from apartheid South Africa, where athletes were racially segregated and had to compete in separate trials. South Africa was banned from the 1964 Games, but controversy resurfaced concerning involvement in the 1968 Games in Mexico City. Various athletes threatened a boycott if the team from South Africa was allowed to compete, and South Africa was eventually banned from the Games and from the Olympic movement, not reinstated until 1990.

The Dennis Brutus collection held at Brunel is a valuable resource for the study of this controversy. Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was a South African-born poet and human rights activist who spearheaded a successful campaign to ban apartheid South Africa from international sport competitions, including the Olympics. He was a founder of the South African Sports Association in 1961 and of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) in 1963, of which he became president. He was refused a passport and later imprisoned; other members of SANROC suffered similarly, but the organisation was revived in London in 1966, when Brutus managed to move to Britain.

Pictured are a range of documents on this topic from the Dennis Brutus collection.


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For more on Dennis Bruits and his human rights activism, see for instance http://www.sahistory.org.za/people/dennis-brutus.




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