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The Olympics of the oppressed

Later this year a flame will be lit in Seoul, South Korea. The flame will mark the beginning of the Olympic Games.

It is a time when thousands of sportsmen and women from all corners of the earth meet to decide who is the strongest, the fastest and the best. It is the greatest of all sporting events.

But winning is not everything at the Olympic Games. For the sportspeople, and for the millions who watch them, just being there is a great moment in their lives.

Under the glow of the Olympic flame, they will join hands in a spirit of peace and togetherness.

But it is a moment that the people of South Africa will not share. Because of apartheid, South Africa is banned from the Olympic Games. It has been this way since 1960 — and it will stay that way until apartheid is destroyed.


But here, in the darkness of South Africa, the flame is not completely dead. It burned brightly in Cape Town for a few days over the Easter holidays.

SACOS — the South African Council on Sport — brought over 500 sports -loving people together to take part in a big festival. They called it the “Olympics of the Oppressed.”

The festival was to mark Sacos’s 15th birthday. The organisation was formed in 1973 to bring together sporting organisations from the oppressed communities in South Africa. Sacos believes that you cannot separate sport from the freedom struggle. Their battle – cry is “No normal sport in an abnormal society.”


In 1982 SACOS also held a festival. At the last minute the only sponsor decided not to back the festival, and SACOS had to fight to get funds for it.

This time the funds came from different sponsors, and the Sacos Olympics were a big success.

For five days there was a feast of over 20 sports. People filled the stadiums, halls and swimming pools. There were speeches about sports and the struggle for freedom, and there was a programme of music and other arts. Crowds shouted “VIVA SACOS” and sang the national anthem wherever you went.


It was easy to see how exciting the world Olympics must be. The opening ceremony started with a big gymstrada. Over 600 schoolchildren and college students took part.

They had practised for four months for the festival. Dressed in black and yellow, they made beautiful patterns all over the playing field. When they formed the word SACOS across the field, the crowd stood and clapped for a long time.

There was a march-past of all the people chosen for the SACOS games, followed by the presidents of each sporting body: athletics, baseball, boxing, chess, darts, bodybuilding, cricket, tennis, table tennis, squash, swimming, softball, weightlifting, rugby, soccer and hockey.

The SACOS executive was introduced to the crowds. Speakers told of the struggles and hardships of sportspeople who practise and play without proper grounds, and with few or no training facilities. They also spoke of apartheid in sport and how it divides people in our country.

At the opening ceremony one of the speakers said: “The SACOS Olympics will help oppressed people to take their rightful place in a new South Africa. A South Africa free of divisions based on colour and wealth.”


The standard in all the events was high, and the spirit was friendly and sporting. In the athletics there were many brilliant performances. Shaun Verster, one of the fastest runners in Africa, was a big attraction for the crowd.

The volleyball games (male and female) produced a thrill a minute. In the packed hall there was a lively, cheering crowd. The SACOS invitation team played exciting volleyball for over five hours. They showed the skill and fitness that come from years of practice and discipline.

Surf lifesaving was something new for many in the crowd. On a cloudy and windy day, hundreds of people went to Strandfontein beach to watch. The lifesavers gave a great display of their strength and knowledge of the sea.

The swimming gala was also very impressive. The swimmers showed that they are able to compete against the best in the country. The most attractive event was the water gymnastics. Three teams of young swimmers moved through the water in time to the music.


The soccer match between the South African Soccer Federation amateur team and the National Professional XI was disappointing at first — but it came alive in the second half. The amateur team showed good skills and scored the first goal. But the professionals soon showed their class and came back to win the game.

The table-tennis games were a dingdong (or ping – pong?) affair. Scores in each game were close, and here too the standard of play was high.

On the last day it was athletics again, with high quality softball and baseball games in the afternoon. It was windy, rainy and cold, but the crowds came anyway. Many athletes had taken part in the Senior Schools Sports a few days before, and they were tired — but they came to the Olympics to show their support for SACOS.


All in all the SACOS games were a success for both players and spectators. The festival showed that one day the oppressed people will be able to take their place at the highest level in a future South Africa free of apartheid.

As one player said: “If we can do so well now with so few opportunities, think how much better it will be when all sportspeople in South Africa have the same facilities for training.”

SACOS President Frank van der Horst was pleased. “It was a huge success. People are very excited. They can’t decide if we should have the games every four years or every year.”

There was a sad note, however. There were not enough faces from the townships in the crowds or in the teams. It shows that SACOS needs to work harder to take its place among the people. There is no reason why it cannot do so.

NEW WORDS “the oppressed” — the people who are pushed down glow — the light from a flame sponsor — the people or company with the money gymstrada — when lots of people do gym together, a gym display training facilities — the space and the equipment you need to train. impressive — very good compete — to play against attractive — very nice to look at


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