Rugby, apartheid, and angry scowls at New Zealand

Australian authorities are worried their multimillion-dollar Commonwealth Games next year -- a kind of mini-olympics for nations in the Commonwealth -- will be ruined.

The games, scheduled to be held in Brisbane, Australia, were to be attended by almost all former British colonies.

But events over the weekend have changed this -- and pushed relations between Australia and close neighbor New Zealand to their lowest ebb ever.

South Africa's national rugby team touched down in Auckland Sunday for a series of matches with New Zealand despite Australia's advice to cancel play because of the African country's apartheid policies.

If the New Zealand-South Africa matches are played -- as it appears they will be -- several other African, Asian, and Caribbean nations may boycott Australia's Commonwealth Games in 1982. Playing sports with South Africa contravenes the "Gleneagles agreement," an understanding among Com- monwealth members that they will not compete against South Africa because of its apartheid policies.

Arriving at the Auckland airport, South Africa's "Springboks" team was greeted by jeers from nearly 2,000 angry demonstrators. New Zealand is poised for the biggest series of protests in the country's history.

Most New Zealanders -- although they are fervent rugby fans -- now oppose the tour, according to opinion polls.

So far the Springboks -- all white, except for one mixed-race player -- have faced protests everywhere they have played on their current tour. Some observers believe that the games with New Zealand may yet be called off if demonstrations intensify.

Antitour rallies in recent months have drawn up to 10,000 protesters. Organizers, working through an umbrella organization called Halt All Racist Tours (HART), say protests during the New Zealand-South Africa games will not be limited to cities where the games are scheduled to be played; the group may thereby frustrate a plan to contain demonstrations that called for shifting contingents of police from one game hotspot to the next on the tour.

The Springboks will alos have to deal with some refusals to provide them with hotels and transportation in New Zealand. Telex and telephone links -- which will be in demand from South African reporters and an expected 2,000 white South African rugby fans -- may well be cut between the two countries, unions warn.

Anti-apartheid groups say four members of the touring party have been identified as members of South Africa's large security apparatus. It as not clear whether those individuals are officials or players.

The first of the games between the Springboks and New Zealand's "All Blacks" (named after the color of their playing togs) is to be played this week in the normally sleepy town of Gisborne, where 1,000 police have been bused in. Busloads of protesters have arrived in the town as well.

Ironically, strong support for the tour comes from some New Zealand Maori groups, who have a passionate interest in rugby. Though they speak out strongly against racism directed against themselves, some of the Maoris say they wanted the tour to go ahead. They point to South Africa's inclusion of a mixed-race player on its team as evidence that South African attitudes on race are changing. However, other Maoris oppose the games and, overall, Maori support for the tour has dropped.

Besides a big price tag for security, it looks as though New Zealand will pay heavily in terms of relations with other nations:

* Commonwealth finance ministers suggest they may switch their conference scheduled for Auckland, New Zealand, in September to another Commonwealth nation.

* New Zealand inevitably faces heavy criticism at a Commonwealth heads-of-government meeting in Australia in October.

* Several African, Asian, and Caribbean Commonwealth nations say they will boycott the 1982 Commonwealth Games if New Zealand doesn't call off the rugby tour.

* Jamaica and other Caribbean nations are threatening to call off international cricket games with New Zealand.

* New Zealand may face expulsion from world soccer competition.

Most observers say the t our is the main factor.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.