A View from Damian D’Oliveira

A Pivotal Point

The 'D'Oliveira Affair' was highlighted in an award-winning BBC documentary 'Not Cricket'. In 1968, my father, Basil D'Oliveira, became the centre of a row that rocked the political and sporting establishment.

Immediately after scoring a superb 158 in the final test against Australia he was excluded from the England team picked to tour apartheid South Africa - apparently because of his race.

It was a pivotal point in late 20th-century politics and led to the sporting boycott of South Africa, which in turn led, as much as any other thing, to the fall of apartheid. It's an amazing example of the connection between sport and politics. When you see the British Establishment pulling together to make the unthinkable happen, it's quite something. It's one of those lovely stories where exactly what we thought had gone on has now been proved to be the case with the opening of the archives in South Africa.

Everyone was working to stop my father going to South Africa...
Everything was being run from Pretoria to exclude him. There is incontrovertible evidence of collusion between the South African cricket authorities and the South African government; whereas in England the MCC always said they were just cricket people and had nothing to do with the government. On the contrary, it's been proved that they worked totally together. It's also more than that. There was probably some collusion between the MCC and the South African government. As far as they were concerned, it was fine that my father was excluded.

Visible Apartheid

The immediate significance of the D'Oliveira affair was to help show the outside world what apartheid really was. The National Party introduced racial segregation when they came to power in 1948 but South Africa continued to be part of the Commonwealth after that. Many people didn't really understand what was going on there until the D'Oliveira Affair. Here was a man who didn't look particularly dark-skinned, but the inequity of the South African system meant you were classified either white or non-white and since he was classified as non-white he could play no part in the national sporting life of his country.

Today my father is a much-loved figure, however he's extremely modest about his political achievement.  One of the ironies of this story is that he obviously had a very significant political effect and the reason he was able to do that was that he always presented himself as an apolitical figure. He was really following Alec Douglas-Home's advice: "Keep out of politics, and if you continue to score runs then you'll be more effective". His public statements were always, "I am not saying anything, I am just trying to play cricket with the best in the world." That became a fantastically powerful message, though, because it was so patently absurd that he wasn't allowed to. His non-selection was a shameful betrayal of him.

My father is adamant that Colin Cowdrey, England's captain at the time, told him that he would be picked for the South Africa tour. However, according to Professor Bruce Murray, who spoke to Cowdrey about this shortly before he died. Cowdrey told him that you must remember that D'Oliveira was chosen as the first substitute. That was probably the compromise. So they chose Cartwright, someone who wasn't fit, announced the team, and then hoped to slip in D'Oliveira afterwards.

Paul Yule, the Director of the documentary 'Not Cricket' said:

"I think he was one of the great all-rounders. Basil D'Oliveira didn't start playing test cricket until he was 34 - that's the same age that Gary Sobers retired at. Its phenomenal that he continued playing in his late 30s and early 40s. He was always battling, not just race, but age. It is one of the great human stories of sport. It's like a fairy tale."

In conclusion, I am constantly asked about how my father dealt with the whole affair and what he thinks today, so I know that the interest has never waned about him. We have a unique story to tell and over time we will reveal the effects it has had on him and how as a family we have coped.

Damian D'Oliveira