Labour government cancels Springbok rugby tour

10 April 1973

1973 Springbok tour cartoon
1973 Springbok tour cartoon (Alexander Turnbull Library, B-134-765)

Prime Minister Norman Kirk informed the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (NZRFU) that the government saw ‘no alternative’ to a ‘postponement’ of the planned tour by the South African Springboks. This decision followed advice from the Police that if the tour went ahead it would ‘engender the greatest eruption of violence this country has ever known’,

During the 1972 election campaign, Kirk (then leader of the Opposition) had promised not to interfere with the tour. After Labour won office, he attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the NZRFU to withdraw its invitation to the Springboks. At the same time he negotiated with anti-tour activists and groups. While he was aware of the likely fallout from the decision to postpone – there was strong public support for the tour – Kirk argued that he would be ‘failing in his duty’ if he didn’t ‘accept the criticism and do what [he] believed to be right … the Government was elected to govern’.

Those who believed that ‘sport and politics don’t mix’ never forgave Kirk. The National Party exploited the issue during the 1975 election campaign, and it undoubtedly contributed to Labour’s crushing defeat.

National Party leader Robert Muldoon stressed that his government would welcome a Springbok team to New Zealand, ‘even if there were threats of violence and civil strife’. In 1981, Muldoon made good this pledge and the Springboks finally toured – at a high cost to New Zealand society. 

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