In Battle of Apartheid, Zola Budd Stands Accused

You begin with the fact that apartheid is a cancer on the world body politic--to say nothing of its soul. You combat it the best way you can.

But you don’t throw maidens into a volcano. Neither do you conduct a lifelong vendetta against a young female runner. And you don’t get Great Britain thrown out of the Olympic Games.

The aim of the Supreme Council of Sport in Africa and the African-bloc nations in the international track and field federation is laudable. They seek to isolate and hold up to public scorn and make a pariah of South Africa until it changes its unconscionable racial policies. They are on the side of the angels here. Civilization should make outcasts of institutional bigots.

They have succeeded probably beyond their most extreme expectations. South African teams can no longer participate in most international athletic meets--the World Cup, the Davis Cup, the Olympic Games among them.


But they are capable of outreaching their charter, overkilling in their objective. A case in point, it seems to me, was the matter of the 1976 Olympics. The circumstances were these: A New Zealand rugby team, on a world tour, stopped to play in South Africa. Outraged, African officials demanded that New Zealand be barred from the Games at Montreal.

Now, the New Zealand track and field federation had no more to do with the rugby union from that country than you or I. It so protested.

A cop-out, said the Africans. We make the rules here.

Not a cop-out, said the New Zealand track federation, a democracy.


What’s that? said the Africans, and delivered an ultimatum to the Olympic Committee: No New Zealand. Or no Africa.

The International Olympic Committee, already smarting because it had permitted Canada to chase Taiwan out of the games as a sop to its grain customer, mainland China, tried to hang tough. It protested that the New Zealand Olympic group had done nothing wrong. I mean, if your brother robs a bank, do you go to prison?

The Africans were unimpressed. They walked.

They have upped the ante this time. This time, they have hauled Great Britain onto the drumhead. They have handed the empire a crisis of conscience.

This time, the issue is a 21-year-old woman. To some, she is a symbol of apartheid. To others, she is a victim.

Zola Budd’s crime? She didn’t pick her parents carefully enough.

Also, ironically, Zola, like a lot of other Africans, cannot go where she wants or do what she likes in the land of her birth.

Four years ago, in a transparent, but legal, attempt to compete in the Olympic Games, Zola Budd, one of the fastest things in Africa without stripes or spots, became a British subject.


She ran in the Olympic Games-- crashed in them would be a better word. She made her home in Blighty but interspersed it with visits home.

There was the rub. But is this reprehensible? Immoral? Illegal?

Well, look at it this way: Doesn’t an emigrant have the right to go home and see her mother? Her siblings? Maybe her school chums? We’re talking about a student here, not an international terrorist.

Well, she went to a track meet. Oh? Maybe she went to the cinema, too. How about a dance? Just what can she do?

Well, first reports had it, she took part in the the track meet. That’s a no-no.

First reports turned out to be erroneous. It was someone who looked like her. A girl who wore eyeglasses like hers.

Well, she gave out trophies, didn’t she?

Well, no, she didn’t.


Well, she wore a track warmup suit.

Did she now? And what are you supposed to wear to a track meet, crinoline and old lace?

In the end, it didn’t matter what she had done. The African bloc notified the International Amateur Athletic Federation that if it didn’t ban Zola Budd, the Africans might boycott IAAF events, including the Olympics.

The IAAF then notified Great Britain that unless it barred Citizen Budd, the IAAF would ban Great Britain.

But ban her for what? She’s a citizen of the realm. She hasn’t been caught slipping nuclear secrets to the Soviets or arms to the Arabs or throwing hand grenades into royal carriages.

What do the British do--repeal Runnymede? The Magna Charta applies to her, too, doesn’t it? Every other British subject has the right to enter races.

The IAAF is not concerned with these niceties of British law. Get rid of this woman or don’t show up at the Seoul Olympics.

It puts Britain on a fine knife point. Can the nation that stood up to Napoleon and Hitler knuckle under to the IAAF? Unless it knuckles, its athletes are barred from the ’88 Olympics--unless, of course, they emigrate to Zimbabwe or Uganda and promise never to watch another British track meet ever again.

Where is the Queen when we need her?

Just what the Olympics needed: another boycott. But I have a better idea for the Zola Budd matter. Why don’t they just burn her at the stake?