Football’s Racist Shame (Part Two) Contrasting Positions – Normalising the Abnormal

Nelson Mandela
Football’s Racist Shame (Part One) Foundations
December 30, 2020
Nelson Mandela

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 18th 2020)

No Pain No Gain

A non-racial South Africa took part in Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualification for the first time in 1994. They failed to qualify. Two years later, they qualified as hosts after original hosts, Kenya, were replaced.

The integrated team, the Bafana Bafana, won South Africa’s first and to date only AFCON title.

It had been a long and painful wait, but an essential one. Apartheid could not be rewarded with normal sport as that society was abnormal – a crime against humanity. But football had an important and little known role in the demise of Apartheid – one that did not occur on the pitch.

The Special FA

South Africa’s sporting isolation ended in 1992, two years after the late Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years imprisonment. Mandela and other iconic figures in the anti-Apartheid struggle loved football. It helped them get through their ordeal.

The Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) consists of national football associations with one exception – a notable one. The Makana FA is that exception. Mandela and fellow prisoners on Robben Island established it according to FIFA rules. But FIFA’s opposition to Apartheid came late in the day, especially compared to African football’s governing body, the Confederation of African Football (CAF), which acted swiftly, decisively and courageously against the deplorably racist system. 

No Compromise

The founder members of CAF were Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan, along with South Africa. CAF was founded on February 8th 1957 in Khartoum, barely six months after Sudan became independent from Egypt.

The founder of Apartheid, Daniel Malan had resigned, just as Africa obtained a place on FIFA’s Executive Committee (ExCo), and FIFA recognised Africa as a FIFA Zone. But FIFA consistently failed to act against the racist regime’s football. That was left to CAF. Despite being a founder member of the organisation, CAF bravely excluded South Africa from the AFCON of 1957 and the next 17 of Africa’s most important national tournament too.

CAF remained consistent in refusing to appease Apartheid. They also pushed FIFA to follow suit. That pressure eventually bore fruit od sorts.

FIFA suspended South Africa in 1961, but rapidly lifted the suspension before it imposed another in 1963 when the Football Association of South Africa (FASA) made the outrageously racist suggestion offering to send an all-white team to the 1966 World Cup and a black one to the 1970 World Cup.

FIFA had no choice but to reject the proposal and suspend South Africa again. But by then it had become clear that the Apartheid government had allies in the higher echelons of FIFA. South African football had been quickly suspended by CAF. It was also kept out of AFCON tournaments until Apartheid was dead in all but name. During this decade or so CAF was growing as African nations secured independence. They were in no mood to pander to Apartheid.

FIFA would have to make a definitive choice over South Africa sooner or later.

Toing and Froing

FIFA finally banned South Africa after João Havelange ousted Sir Stanley Rous as FIFA President – Havelange had promised the ban if elected. That was in the mid-1970s.

The different approaches of CAF and FIFA are telling.

As independence and anti-colonial struggles swept through Africa, that continent’s football was no longer prepared to tolerate the racist football offered by the South African Football Association (the first and racist incarnation of SAFA).

A change of name to FASA (the Football Association of South Africa) made no difference.

Before their expulsion from FIFA – the International Olympic Committee also expelled South Africa – the Apartheid state tried to use football to pretend that its sport was racially integrated.

In 1972 FIFA gave special permission to FASA for foreign teams to play in the South African Games the following year with the requirement that black people could be spectators.

This decision by FIFA’s Executive bypassed FIFA’s Congress – the issue was not mentioned at FIFA’s Congress in Paris in 1973.

The decision was ratified by FIFA’s ExCo in January 1973. But they had been deceived. A month later FIFA withdrew the special permission as FASA’s intention to have racially separate teams became clear.

Then Minister of Sport and Recreation, Pieter Koornhof[1] gave the Apartheid government’s response around three months later. Far from integrating football in South Africa, Koornhof consolidated racism in South African sport through its most popular sport, football.

He announced a tournament where a white team, a black team, a coloured team and an Indian team would play against each other. The crowd remained racially segregated. Koornhof later proposed a champion of champions tournament where white and non-white clubs could play.

CAF members led by Ethiopia were far from convinced, but their proposal to expel South Africa from FIFA was rejected by FIFA’s ExCo in November 1974.

It was nowclear to African nations and CAF that only regime change in FIFA could deliver justice and non-racial sport in South Africa.

The issue could only be raised again at the next FIFA Congress in Montreal in 1976, although FIFA sent a commission to investigate conditions in South Africa in 1975. Individual sportsmen and women could play in South Africa while it was suspended rather than expelled. That ended in 1976 when FIFA finally expelled South Africa.

It had taken almost two decades since CAF refused to allow South Africa to participate in its activities despite being a founder member. It would take almost two more for that decision to bear fruit.


[1] Koornhof had posts in the governments of P.W Botha and F.W de Klerk. He recommended the release of Mandela to Botha and was demoted as a result. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 2001, dying six years later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *