August 18, 1964: South Africa is banned from the Tokyo Olympics over apartheid regime

The International Olympic Committee banned South Africa from competing because of the segregationist policies which meant only white athletes could represent the country.

On this day in 1964, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barred South Africa from competing in the Summer Olympics because of the segregationist policies of its apartheid regime.

The racial segregation that defined South Africa’s apartheid regime was not just social, political and cultural – it also extended to sport.  Many international sporting bodies and contests boycotted the country because of this – and one of the first to do so was the International Olympic Committee in 1964.

As sporting bodies in South Africa were segregated by race, and only white sporting bodies were affiliated to the South African Olympic and Empire Games Association, it meant that only white South Africans were able to represent the country in its Olympic team.


As a result, in late 1963, the IOC demanded from the South African National Olympic committee “a change in policy regarding racial discrimination in sports and competitions in its country, failing which the South African Olympic will be debarred from entering its team in the Olympic Games”.

They said that the decision would be overturned if South Africa publicly renounced racial discrimination in sport and assured the committee that its Olympic team would be multi-racial.

[July 19, 1980: Politics takes centre stage as Moscow Olympics are hit by global boycott]

Despite South Africa announcing in June that there would be seven non-white athletes in their team of 62 – the country having held separate trials for white and black athletes – this did not go far enough for the IOC. On August 18, 1964, two months after Nelson Mandela was jailed for life, it was announced that South Africa would be banned from taking part in the Summer Games being held that October in Tokyo.


South Africa was formally expelled from the International Olympic Committee in 1970. In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from jail, President FW de Klerk lifted the country’s state of emergency, and negotiations began which would bring an end to apartheid. Following a visit to South Africa in 1991, the IOC invited the country to participate at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.

[February 11, 1990: Nelson Mandela freed from jail after 27 years in captivity]