The Real Reason South Africa Didn't Compete In The Olympics For Over 20 Years

Most contemporary sporting events only wish they'd been around as long as the Olympic Games have been. Running, according to History, from 776 BCE until a minor 1,500-year pause when the Roman Emperor Theodosius I decided to ban the event. Granted, those were the ancient Olympic Games, but even the modern ones have been around for quite some time — since the event's resurrection in 1896. From that moment forward, countries from all around the globe have sniffed out their best athletes like truffle pigs and pit them against each other in trials of glory. And, in the time these modern games have been around, nations have done whatever they needed to do to be invited back every four years. Well, most nations anyhow.

Every once in a while, a country or team will get a bug up their you-know-what that causes them to butt heads with Olympic officials, and those folks are usually asked, very politely (or not), to take some time away from competing. One such case was South Africa, a nation that didn't compete for over two decades for a very, very good reason. Here's what happened.

Banned by the International Olympics Committee

The Olympics has a governing body known as the International Olympics Committee, and according to their website, they serve as guardians of the game. Basically, the committee is made up of stakeholders from around the globe who work to keep things flowing between all the other Olympic committees and organizations — of which there are many. They're also the guys you don't want to cross if you plan on being invited back to compete when the games roll around. You know, like South Africa did. How exactly? By being a bunch of jerks, but we'll explain that further.

According to Britannica, the plague of apartheid — government-sanctioned racial discrimination and segregation led by a white minority party (the National Party) — ran strong in South Africa from 1948 until 1994. It was around before that but not by the same name. Anyway, those five rings that make up the Olympic symbol are meant to stand for unity among the people from the five inhabited regions of the Earth, and here was South Africa segregating under leadership of European descent.

The committee gave the country the option to condemn apartheid, but the prejudiced policies benefitted white leadership, so of course, they didn't. South Africa was first barred from the 18th Olympics in Tokyo, according to BBC, in 1964. The ban lasted until the 1992 games, as The New York Times explains, when "enough" of their racist policies had been changed to satisfy the organization.