Athletes in England could find themselves banned from the next Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. They are likely to be forced out by a combined vote of African, Asian, and Caribbean Commonwealth countries opposed to the current tour of South Africa by an English Rugby football side.
The decision on participation by English athletes in the 1986 games (Scottish and Welsh athletes will not be affected) is expected to be taken at a meeting of Commonwealth athletic bodies in Los Angeles two days before the summer Olympics begin.
Most of the 55 countries in the Commonwealth Games Federation are bitterly hostile to South Africa's apartheid policies. And a majority of Commonwealth countries are thought likely to register their protest against the Rugby tour of South Africa by a team of English players.
England's Rugby authorities decided to go ahead with the trip to South Africa despite advice by the British government and pleas from the English Commonwealth Games Council.
Under sporting policies agreed by Commonwealth governments in 1977 and clarified two years ago, Commonwealth sportsmen are required to do everything they can to sustain a sporting boycott against South Africa.
But the English Rugby authorities refused to take heed of these rules. And the English Commonwealth Games Council showed reluctance to condemn the Rugby tour.
The result has been a steady buildup of resentment in Commonwealth countries.
The irony of England being prevented from competing within the United Kingdom against athletic teams from the Commonwealth has been widely noted by commentators.
The English rugby side left London for South Africa with the cries of anti-apartheid protesters in their ears. When they arrived in Johannesburg, they were given a warm welcome by white South Africans.
Rugby is South Africa's leading sport, but anti-apartheid pressures in recent years have made it difficult for ''Springbok'' sides to play a full part in international competition.
Anti-apartheid groups around the Commonwealth have had misgivings about the British government's decision to grant British citizenship to a young South African runner, Zola Budd.
Miss Budd, whose parents are British, is hoping to run in British colors at Los Angeles.
The speed with which she was given a British passport has been attacked by anti-apartheid groups as indicating the government is lukewarm in its attitude to South Africa.
Next month Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher will receive the South African prime minister, P. W. Botha, at 10 Downing Street - the first such visit by a South African prime minister for 23 years.
The English Commonwealth Games Council plans to plead at Los Angeles that it had no power to prevent English Rugby players from touring South Africa.