On 15th August 1981, racial tensions that had been brewing since the 1950’s, spilled out around the outskirts of Christchurch’s Lancaster Park as a rugby game was played between the All Blacks and the South African Team – the Springboks. Hundreds of anti-apartheid protesters swarmed around outside the park, finally breaking past riot police and a security fence to invade the pitch and disrupt the game. The match was only able to be continued once the rioters were forced from the ground – not only by the police but also by the park’s staff and rugby fans.
The All Blacks won 14 – 9.
Apartheid had turned South Africa into an international pariah, with its support of racial segregation and discrimination. This was felt all around the world and it was strongly discouraged, within the sporting world, to participate in any event where they featured. In 1976, 25 African countries boycotted the Summer Olympics to further bring attention to the problems in their homeland.
So, when a rugby tour was proposed by the Springbok rugby team in 1981, some of the New Zealand public joined with the rest of world in protest – refusing to show support for their apartheid ways. With Australia blatantly not letting the South Africans even land, our Government was also called to block their entry into New Zealand. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, believing that politics should not interfere with sport, stepped back and the New Zealand Rugby Union decided to proceed with the tour.
As Maori and other islanders weren’t selected, in favour over their European counterparts when games with the Springboks were concerned in the past, the upcoming riots became a dual protest of discrimination against the Maori.
After what was witnessed with other riots around the world, New Zealand’s police force was armed with batons and helmets – for the first time in our history. The Springboks arrived in New Zealand on 19th July 1981 and every game was interrupted by protests one way or other. Pitches were stormed, fans fought with protesters, bottles and concrete blocks were thrown, flour bombs were dropped from a plane and there was even a threat that a plane would be crashed into a game on purpose.
After the tour finished, there were no further sporting events between South Africa and New Zealand until apartheid was abolished 10 years later.
*image courtesy of Press Reader – https://www.pressreader.com*