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Sports

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Parent Issue
Day
30
Month
July
Year
1975
OCR Text

Arthur Ashe is undoubtedly the most lalcnwd and cclehratcd Black American tennis player ofour time and several weeks ago beeame the fint Black to win the men 's singles cup at England's Wimhleion championship. In recent years, however, Aslic's ünprecedented tratéis to South África, where the policy ofstrict racial segregation knawn as apartheid prevails, have generaled as much publicitv, ifnol more, as his exploits on the tennis court. ín the following interview with At'rica magazine, Arthur Ashe candidly explains the reasons behind his two controversia! trips to South África, saying that he sees himselfas "a crusader. " ÁFRICA: In the field of sport, where you have achieved considerable fame, you have been a controversial figure because of your views on race relations. In September, 1964, you were quoted by Newsweek as saying that you were "no crusader for racial integration in sport." And a year ago you went to South África amidst protest from many of your fans and you have visited that country again recently. How do you see yourself and your actions in the context of racial discrimination in sport? ASHE: With regard to the statement of my not being a crusader ten years ago, that s exactly as t was when I was a junior at the University of California in Los Angeles. But I have changed; now I am a crusader. What makes t diff icult for me is that when I beeame involved in the situation in South África in 1968, it was something that affected me in a very personal sense. And ever since then, South África and its racial problems of apartheid have been an obsession with me. I started studying and readng its history and about its people; and, in fact, before I went there I knew about as much about South África as one could know never having been there. I had also always learnt from my parents that nothing can really be solved until the two sides in an argument sit down at a table and start discussion. However, one cannot be so naive as to assume that you can just sit down at a table and a solution automatically comes out. Obviously world politics does not work that way. ÁFRICA: Given the knowledge you acquired about conditions in South África what philosophy, f any, have you evolved regarding a solution to the problem there? ASHE: I had to think about it this way:What is my special area of influence? What am I trying to do? I think sports and music, and possibly entertainment, are the two areas where no matter what your preconceived notions are of your neighbor, be he Chinese, Jewish or White or whatever, you really don't care whether you sit next to someone who is not like you. You may care who sits next to you in church; who goes to school with your daughter; whom your son or daughter marries. But if you are going to watch a football match. ,or you are going to watch some great entertainer perform, you really don't care who you are sitting next to because you are there to enjoy yourself. So, I think sports is a great medium by which people can learn how to get along. So really that basically summarzes my philosophy about t. ÁFRICA: The South African government has divided people even in the world of entertainment and sport. What irifluence do you think your visit to South África has had on discrimination on sport there? Are such visits not an endorsement of apartheid? ASHE: Last year when I went, as I did this year too, I nsisted on three conditions being met: f irstly, I would not play n front of a segregated audience. Secondly, I would not go f South África had to grant me an honorary white status. They had to either take me as a black American human being or I would not go at all. And the third condition was that I would be allowed to come and go as I pleased and to say anything I want. Those conditions were met. Now there was one distinction which I must make here. Apartheid is the law of the land, so when I said I would not play n front of a segregated audience, I had no llusions about me having to force South África to change its law; but, in fact, t changed its practice. While I was there at Ellis Park, the Tennis Stadium in Johannesburg, for the first time the people whom they cali Coloureds, Asians and Africans occupied seats they had never sat n before because I nsisted it had to be an ntegrated audience. Now the law had not been changed, t was Ilegal to have some of these seats sold to Coloureds, Asians and Africans since 1948, when apartheid started. So, there was de facto ntegration although the letter of the law was still the same. ÁFRICA: In other words, you achieved a kind of break n the practice of apartheid while you were there? ASHE: At least apartheid had to pause for 1 2 days because I had said I wouldn't come if it were not so, and that is what happened. The second benefit was that for the first time, again since 1948, Africans, Coloureds and Asians were allowed to play on what is called the Sugar Circuit, which is a series of professional tournaments sponsored by the South African Sugar Association. Although it is a minor circuit on the world professional scène, t is South Africa's showpiece professional tennis tournament. Further, it is now legally substantiated that any South African, no matter who he is, can, on merit, qualify for any of South Africa's international teams. Thus any good Black, Coloured or Asían South African could play in the Davis Cup for South África. This comes from the Minister of Sport himself with whom I had two interviews. ÁFRICA: Am I right in assuming that your approach to apartheid is not to boy cott South África, but to use whatever influence you have to break down the walls of apartheid as much as you can? This is contrary to what many famous black sportsmen believe. ASHE: Yes, it started in 1968, when black athletesaround the world got together and decided South África and Rhodesia should not enter the Olympics because of their racial policies; and a campaign for a sports boycott was started. I think in the past three years in particular, and, in general, since 1968 this policy of isolation was the correct approach. South Africans, especially the white ones, are crazy about sport; if you deny them sport, then they would do almost anything to get it back. What I am suggesting now is that South África is beginning to change and the way to get the door open more is not to mpose further boycotts, but to give South África every opportunity to open the door wider. When South África is making these changes in their apartheid structure, you have to, even though we don't like tt emotionally, give them a face-saving way out. If you put South Africa's back to the wall and say "Dammit, l'm going to have nothing to do with you" they are going to say "to heil with you!" And they may turn the screws tighter on our black brothers down there. So in fact, I disagree completely now with sports boycotts for two specif c reasons. First, there is only one sort of boycott that will work: an economie boycott. You know as well as I that if you give the average person in the Street even the black South African, a choice between money and morality, he will take money every time. Morality takes the back seat to money. . ÁFRICA: Do you believe that economie boycott would product effective change in South África? ASHE: My approach now is to foster more contact and communication between Aft ican and black American political activists. I think I understand emotionally, believe me, why somebody like Gowon or Nyerere, Kaunda or Kenyatta cannot all of a sudden cali up Vorster and say let's have a chat, because it is emotionally painful. However, I think Martin Luther King showed us blacks in the U.S. that you don't get progress in great big pieces; you have to f ight for every inch of it, so when you are able to get an inch, you take it. You consolídate that position and then you get another inch, and then you consolidate again, and before you know it, you are getting three and four inches at a time and when you look back at it over say a period of time, you notice that those inches have added up to a foot, and soon you have a yard. We should use the language that we have, forget about being so emotiondlly wrapped up in the problem, and start contacting and communicating with the people of South África who feel as we do. ÁFRICA: What signs did you see in South África to encourage you to feel that your approach is the right one? continuad on page 14 "When I went to South África, I insisted that I would not play in front of a segregated audience, and that I would not go if granted 'honorary white' status. Those condit ons were met." Ashe continued from page 1 1 ASHE: One of the biggest surprises of my trip to South África last year was hearing so many white South Africans saying to me "You know Arthuí , your way is going to bring progress faster than the isolationists' way." If you are trying to push some big forcé out of the way, and you are not strong enough, you only have two options. You can grow stronger than the forcé opposing you and push it out of the way or get that other forcé not to push so hard. I think the second alternative is the best way. Instead of trying to hustle South África into giving up apartheid, I think we should créate an atmosphere in which South África dosen't resist change so violently. The problem with that is, as you and I know, with you being an African and me being an AfroAmerican, is that emotionally we don't like t. It doesn't make me feel good in my guts, but as long as this feeling stays with us, it only prolongs the solution.