While a grim-faced Avery Brundage intoned the words of an announcement from the International Olympic Committee's nine-man Executive Board which, in effect, bars South Africa from the 1968 Olympic Games, a small tableau nearby dramatized the reversal of the stand taken by the committee at Grenoble in February. Jean Claude Ganga, a small, very happy Congolese, rushed to a ground-floor window of the Ch√¢teau de Vidy in Lausanne and, grinning broadly, reached in to pump the hand of a plump man bearing a startling resemblance to Nikita Khrushchev. Brundage was perched precariously on the back steps of the villa, and Constantin Andrianov, the representative from the Soviet Union, was the man in the window whom Ganga congratulated.
The cable Brundage read, which was being sent to all members of the International Olympic Committee, said: "In view of all the information on the international climate received by the Executive Board at this meeting, it is unanimously of the opinion that it would be most unwise for a South African team to participate in the Games of the 19th Olympiad. Therefore, the Executive Board strongly recommends that you endorse this unanimous proposal to withdraw the invitation to these Games. This postal vote is submitted under rule No. 20. Please reply immediately by cable CIO Lausanne. Avery Brundage."
The surprising decision to reconsider the invitation to South Africa ostensibly was made to avoid friction in the Olympic community, and none of the members of the Executive Board would allow themselves to be quoted otherwise. But underlying the vote was an obvious, deep-seated fear of the possibility of demonstrations by Black Power advocates in the United States and elsewhere.
"We did not want that chap from California coming down to Mexico City and setting off riots," one member said. "We had to think of the safety of the young people involved in the Games themselves, especially the safety of the white South Africans competing. Suppose one of them should be killed in a riot?" The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King also had had a profound effect on those attending the meeting. "We were all very much aware of the implications of his assassination and the climate the act had created in America," said another board member.
April 28, 1968
Andrianov, the Russian, was beaming as he shook hands with Ganga, who is a leader of an organization known as the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa, representing 33 African nations. But the Russian refused to admit that his happiness stemmed from what actually was a victory for the Russian-African bloc. "We are not entirely pleased by this outcome," Andrianov said through his interpreter. "It is not precisely what we would have liked, but I think that we will now reconsider our position. The Mexican people are our friends and we did not want to see them hurt."
"Do you think your threat of boycott had anything to do with this recommendation?" he was asked.
"Threat?" he asked, eyebrows lifted high over small blue eyes. "At no time have we made a threat of boycott. What we have said was that if South Africa were admitted, we would have a meeting and reconsider our attitude toward competing. We made no threat."
The decision was a bitter one for the 80-year-old Brundage, who had arrived in Lausanne from Johannesburg on the Friday before the Saturday-Sunday meetings carrying an envelope with a list of the names of the South African team under his arm. At the airport in Geneva he had said, "If an organization makes a decision and a minority wishes to reverse it in a month, what's to prevent another minority asking for another reversal a month later?" At the Ch√¢teau de Vidy, after he had finished reading his cable to the crush of journalists in the courtyard of the ch√¢teau, Brundage went back inside to a large ground-floor room. To a few reporters there he admitted that it was not necessary for the Executive Board acting as a whole to ask for another vote on the admission of South Africa. "I could have done it on my own authority," he said. "But I refused."
There was little doubt that the new vote would result in the barring of the South African team. One South American expressed delight in what had happened, and the Mexican delegation, upon its return to the Lausanne Palace Hotel, indulged in an orgy of embracing and kissing.
Jean Claude Ganga, who had appointed himself chief lobbyist for the African nations, had hung about the outside of the Ch√¢teau de Vidy on the Saturday afternoon the meetings started, greeting board members effusively as they arrived and vigorously haranguing the members of the polyglot press on hand.
"No," he had said, in answer to one question. "I am not invited to this meeting. You will notice that there is no black man sitting at that table. Of the entire International Olympic Committee of 71 members, there are only three members from Black Africa, and one of them, the member from Kenya, is a white Englishman. I am available for consultation if they want me, of course." Ganga presented a persuasive case and one with overtones of pressure. "If the committee were to reverse the position," he said, "then I think that we would write to the Negroes of the United States and ask them to reconsider their boycott of these Games. Of course, I realize that they have taken their position antecedent to ours, but it is possible that we would be able to influence them."
Abetting the efforts of Ganga were two more Africans, both of them exiled athletes hailing from South Africa. They presented a detailed brief with their contentions on the situation before the meetings started. They were Dennis Brutus, the president of the South African Non-racial Open Committee for Olympic Sports, and Reginald Hlongwane, the secretary of the organization. Both now live in London.
"The blacks in South Africa cannot speak out on this matter," Hlongwane said. "Dennis was shot, imprisoned and exiled for speaking out. I was exiled. The South African Olympic trials will not be fair if the black and white men do not compete against one another. If you have two lightweight champions, one black and one white, do you sniff at them to decide who goes? If so, you know who will go."
The meetings themselves, although long drawn out, were peaceful. The board members had arrived at their decision by noon Sunday. They spent the afternoon milling about the long, paneled second-floor meeting room, most of them in shirtsleeves, debating the exact wording of the cable.
"It was amicable enough," said Lord Killanin, the Irish member, who has the pink cheeks and cheerful mien of a hearty drinker, which he is. He is a movie producer, among other things, and wears long sideburns, so that he has something of the appearance of an elderly hippie. "There was no shouting, no banging on the table. We got along well."
With South Africa finally rejected, the Olympic Games would go on with all but full representation, which most certainly would not have been the case otherwise. Among the pressures Ganga had indicated was the threat of a rival African Olympic Games. "We shall see what happens," he said before the vote. "Already we have been approached by the American Negroes with the suggestion that we have our own Olympics in Africa at the same time as those in Mexico City, and there are Asian countries who would join us. Was it Harry Edwards who approached me? I am not at liberty to say."
When it was all over, the Mexican Olympic organizing committee held a jubilant press conference in a plush room at the Lausanne Palace. Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, the chairman, said, "We would like to express our deep satisfaction over this decision. We in Mexico are happy that the rules of the Olympic organization are respected."
Ganga, too, held a press conference. Smiling cheerfully, he said, "I want to give thanks all around. I hope when the vote is in, all the other members of the International Olympic Committee will join with the board. I once thought that if I were all powerful, what I would like to do would be to put Paris in a bottle. This may be better."