On this day in History August 22, 1972: During an Olympic games that is remembered for the murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists, the African nation formerly known as The Republic of Rhodesia was kept out of the games. Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe faced expulsion from the games from an IOC vote. Why the pressure?
Given the racial climate of Africa in the 1970’s, especially concerning the white minority that ruled (often through brutal and repressive measures) in areas such as Rhodesia and South Africa, the African Nations threatened to Boycott the 1972 Munich Games. The trouble probably long before these games but from what I can tell, a particular point in time and act is the focal point that led to Rhodesia being left on the outside looking in at Munich.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica listing for Zimbabwe:
The goal of the RF was Rhodesian independence under guaranteed minority rule. Field was replaced as prime minister in April 1964 by his deputy, Ian Smith. The RF swept all A-roll seats in the 1965 election, and Smith used this parliamentary strength to tighten controls on the political opposition. After several attempts to persuade Britain to grant independence, Smith’s government announced the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) on November 11, 1965.
On June 20, 1969, a referendum was held in Rhodesia regarding adoption of a constitution that would enshrine political power in the hands of the white minority and establish Rhodesia as a republic; Rhodesia’s predominantly white electorate overwhelmingly approved both measures. The constitution was approved by Parliament in November, and on March 2, 1970, Rhodesia declared itself a republic.
As stated above, the RF (Rhodesian Front) was a political party that wanted to maintain the policy of white minority rule. In terms of the Olympics, the Rhodesian national team wasn’t made up only of white athletes. But the black athletes were relegated to events such as sprinting and jumping. There was also the controversy that the Rhodesian athletes were not from Rhodesia but South Africa AND that the country was an illegal regime and members of its team were not therefore British subjects.
The IOC issued Rhodesia’s invitation to the West German games on certain conditions, which included appearing under their old colonial flag. But as of March 2, 1970, Rhodesia declared itself as being a Republic. So where did they stand: Independent country or colony.
According to the article Examining “The Rhodesian Affair:”: The IOC and African Politics in the 1970s by Maureen Smith
Brundage and the Executive Board agreed unanimously that the Rhodesians had met the terms of agreement and invited the African delegates and Rhodesian delegates to the session. Each group was given the opportunity to argue their case. The African members reminded the IOC members that racial discrimination occurred in Rhodesian sport and that Rhodesia was exploiting the Games for their own political purposes. Still, questions related to nationality and discrimination lingered and the Rhodesians were pressed on those topics. After both sides had spoken, IOC member Segura Marte R. Gomez of Mexico pressed Brundage to find a solution that would work for both sides; Gomez felt this would be the last great act for Brundage in his presidency. Brundage wanted to allow Rhodesia to compete, thinking they would decline the invitation, thus allowing the other African countries to participate, but also assuring Rhodesia’s relationship with the IOC. The presidents put it before the membership as a choice between picking Rhodesia and “wrecking the Munich Games,” or support the Africans and be accused of succumbing to political blackmail.” The members in attendance voted to not support Rhodesia, with 31 for, 36 against, and 3 abstentions and the invitation to Rhodesia to participate in the 1972 Games was withdrawn. The vote was explained as a technicality of citizenship, not racial discrimination.
Regardless of the reasons the IOC gave for excluding the Rhodesian team, this show of force by the African Nations that stood against Rhodesia would help to lay the foundation for the changes in the political systems of Southern African nations in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Cartoon strip by Geoff “Jeff” Hook from August 24, 1972.
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