New Zealand-South Africa rugby: no-win situation for both countries

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The South African Springbok rugby team has left after an acrimonious, bloody two-month tour that set New Zealander against New Zealander on a scale never before witnessed.

But the international reverberations ripple on. New Zealand faces criticism from abroad almost as stiff as at home for playing host to a team from a country that practices apartheid. As a direct result of the tour, New Zealand has suffered the indignity of having a Commonwealth finance ministers' meeting transferred to the Bahamas.

Bristling at black African criticism of the tour, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon has vowed to come out fighting by pointing to human-rights violations in his critics' own backyards. He is under intense pressure not to do this at the Commonwealth heads-of-government meeting at the month's end in Melbourne.

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[Reuters reports that in South Africa, sports officials were saying the tour had set back South African sports and were gloomy about the prospects for future foreign travel. Liberal newspapers were reported to have said the rugby tour had hurt the country.

[Soviet officials were reported to be preparing a request to the International Olympic Committee to move the 1984 games out the United States if the Springboks go ahead with a scheduled US tour later this month.]

The games set New Zealand itself on a course of unprecedented disruption, violence, and bitterness that analysts say will take years to mend.

On Sept. 12, the final violent day of the games, anti-tour leader John Minto asserted that protest "didn't stop it [the tour]. But the cost has been so high that it should ensure that this is the last tour by a racist South African team."

The final match between the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks (named for the color of their playing togs) in Auckland drew an unprecedented number of police and 7,000 determined anti-tour protesters.

During the game a lone, single-engine plane repeatedly swooped low over the heads of 49,000 rugby fans, bombarding the ground with flour bombs, fiery smoke bombs on miniature parachutes, and red flares. One smoke bomb struck All Black Gary Knight and the game twice stopped to clear the field of smoke bombs and other debris.

The plane's pilot said he "did it to fight apartheid." He was quickly arrested -- as were several hundred protesters throughout the Springboks tour, during which buildings were attacked, policemen felled by stone-throwers, and the huge Auckland harbor bridge closed to traffic.

In the end the games came to nought for the beleaguered South African team.New Zealand's All Blacks snatched a last-minute victory to win the series.

Springbok manager Johan Claassen said afterward that "We Springboks deeply regret the trouble you have had organizing this tour, the unpleasantness and, according to what we have read, the divisions in your society."

Mr. Muldoon has asked the Commonwealth leaders to reexamine the "Gleneagles agreement," the 1977 accord declaring the Commonwealth's opposition to apartheid.

With an election just 2 1/2 months away, he is also conscious of the possible consequences of the tour and of its effect on his country's reputation. Some New Zealanders want to leave the Commonwealth.But with Queen Elizabeth due in the country for an eight-day visit in early October, it is highly unlikely quick action on such option will be taken.

Estimates put the monetary cost of the tour at up to 10 million dollars (New Zealand).

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