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Cricket and politics Published: 05 September 2013

Cricket and politics

In 1975 a young schoolboy from Derbyshire called Andrew Redfern wrote a letter to the Minister of Sport Denis Howell complaining that they didn't have cricket at his new school.

It got picked up by local media and suddenly the local rags and TV were on the schools doorstep. The letter was innocent enough but it shows even at the grass roots of the game, cricket and politics can intertwine.

Despite the desire of some to separate politics and sport, the relationship between politics and cricket goes back along way.

Both are important parts of life stirring strong emotions so a true division rarely exists.

Possibly the most famous incident of cricket and politics colliding was during the D’Olivera affair.  

Basil D'Oliveira - a 'coloured' South African - had grown up in Cape Town but moved to England during the Apartheid era to fulfil his cricketing promise. Having played in the Lancashire league for club side Middleton he was then picked up by Worcestershire and ended up playing 44 Test matches for his adopted country.

In 1968 D'Oliveira was not selected for the Test side due to tour South Africa in the winter of 1968-69, despite having scored 158 not out against the Australia at the Oval just a few days before the selection meeting.  

The selection committee maintained that their decision was purely based on cricketing considerations including an assertion that D’Olivera’s style would not suit the South African conditions, but many suspected the reasons had more to do with ‘not rocking the boat’.  

Under South African laws, D’Olivera would not have been permitted to play on a South African tour.

In January the previous year, South African Minister of the Interior Pieter le Roux stated: “We will not allow mixed teams to play against our white teams here.”

D'Oliveira's omission from the touring party drew the attention of the general public.  When another player dropped out of the tour due to injury there was even greater pressure on the MCC to replace him with D’Olivera, which they did – but South African Prime Minister Vorster then banned the Tour.

He stated: “It’s not the MCC team.  It’s the team of the anti-apartheid movement…it’s the team of political opponents of South Africa.  It is a team of people who don’t care about sports relations at all.”

The South African’s were due to tour England the following year, but the ‘Stop the Seventy Tour’ campaign was launched with protests and threats of direct action and the tour was eventually cancelled after a direct appeal to the Cricket Council from the Home Secretary James Callaghan.

This was not the first time politicians became involved in the game.  

During the 'Bodyline' scandal in the 1932/33 Ashes Series in Australia, the friendly relations existing between England and Australia were under threat as a sporting tactic transformed into a near diplomatic incident!  

During the exchange of telegrams between the two cricket boards, the press and politicians, such as the Governor of South Australia Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven and Stanley Baldwin, also became involved and it was alleged that there were formal discussions in the cabinets of both nations.

As in Andrew Redfern’s youth, the issue of cricket in state schools is still seen as a political issue today, especially as we live in a time when fewer players from working class origins reach the top than probably in any time in cricket’s history.

Many state schools do not have the space or facilities to provide cricket, and the problem was exacerbated by the sale of playing fields in the 1980s and 90s.

So whether it’s race, class or international relations cricket has often proved a political hot potato.


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