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In 1968, cricket was at the forefront of global opposition to apartheid as the Basil D'Oliveira affair proved a watershed in the sporting boycott against South Africa. Upon the fall of that government 22 years later, cricket was again highly praised; the newly-released Nelson Mandela was among many to attribute huge significance to the boycott in bringing an end to the apartheid regime. Yet in between the boycott was repeatedly breached. Teams from England, the West Indies, Australia (all twice), and Sri Lanka (once) toured South Africa in defiance of the sanctions, playing unofficial 'Tests' and 'one-day internationals' against 'home' teams to meet the voracious demand of a sports-hungry white populace. These 'rebel tours' constituted perhaps the largest crisis in cricket history. The ICC imposed three-year international bans on every rebel tourist, depriving the game of many distinguished performers. But the tours delighted their South African hosts. Despite the fevered controversy and heavy penalties, many players considered the rewards -- usually a year's salary, tax-free -- adequate compensation, and tours continued right up until the fall of apartheid: Mike Gatting was leading the second England tour at the time Mandela was released. And they were not alone as the UK remained among apartheid South Africa's most active economic trading partners. This episode in cricket history is rich in historical and contemporary significance, as well as exercising sport's political dimensions -- both positive and negative -- in a way not seen before or since. Yet until now it has scarcely been examined, due not only to the respectability of the tourists but also deep unease within the cricket world. Few players feel they have adequately explained their actions, while the sport at large was -- as it remains -- slow to examine its moral and political responsibilities.
- SportsBooks, March 2011
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