“It is surely right that the House should discuss the burning topic of the South African cricket tour, which has aroused such grave anxiety throughout this county…”
(MP Philip Noel-Baker, quoted in Hansard 14th May 1970)
As a boy Andrew Redfern caused a mini political scandal with his letter to a government minister – http://www.takingthefield.com/stories/scandal-started-youth-cricket. The relationship between politics and cricket goes back along way, despite the desire of some to separate politics and sport. Both are important parts of life stiring strong emotions so this ‘ideal’ rarely exists.
Possibly the most famous incident of cricket and politics colliding was during the D’Olivera affair. ‘Non-white’ cricketer Basil D’Oliveira was not selected for the test side due to tour South Africa 1968-69, despite having scored 158 not out against the Australians just a few days before the selection meeting. The selection committee maintained that their decision was purely based on cricketing considerations including an assertion that D’Olivera’s style would not suit the South African conditions, but many suspected that the decision had more to do with ‘not rocking the boat’. Under South African laws D’Olivera would not have been permitted to play on a South African tour.
“We will not allow mixed teams to play against our white teams here.”
(South African Minister of the Interior, January 1967)
His omission from the team drew the attention of the general public. When another player dropped out of the tour due to injury there was great pressure on the MCC to replace him with D’Olivera, which they did – South African Prime Minister Vorster then banned the tour stating…
“It’s not the MCC team. It’s the team of the anti-apartheid movement…it’s the team of political opponents of South Africa. It is a team of people who don’t care about sports relations at all.”
The South African’s were due to tour England the following year, but the ‘Stop the Seventy Tour’ campaign was launched with protests and threats of direct action and the tour was eventually cancelled after a direct appeal to the Cricket Council from the Home Secretary James Callaghan.
This was not the first time politicians became involved in the game. During the bodyline scandal the friendly relations existing between England and Australia were under threat as a sporting tactic transformed into a near diplomatic incident! During the furious exchange of telegrams between the two cricket boards the press and politicians such as the Governor of South Australia Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven and Stanley Baldwin also became invovled and it was alledge that there were formal discussions in the cabinet by both nations. Why bodyline became so political is a murky issue, many members of the MCC committee had strong links to the Conservative Party which may have had some effect, also for some Australian nationalists the tactic was symbolic of English imperialistic and authoritarian attitudes.
As in Andrew Redfern’s youth, the issue of cricket in state schools is still seen as a political issue today, especially as we live in a time when fewer players from working class origins reach the top than probably in any time of the cricket’s history (see previous post – Is cricket Posh?). Many state schools do not have the space or facilities to provide cricket, and the problem was exacerbated by the sale of playing fields in the 1980s and 90s.
So whether it’s race, class or international relations cricket has often proved a political hot potato.
(Bibliography – Anyone but England: Cricket and the National Malaise by Mike Marqusee. Bodyline by Philip Derriman. Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith. All available in the MCC Library)