Hugo McNeill on his 1981 South Africa tour boycott

Former Ireland international remembers his own role in the fight against apartheid

The relationship between sport and politics has perhaps never been as complicated, and important, as it was in South Africa, both during and shortly after the era of apartheid. The sport which undoubtedly had the most significant impact on South African politics, and the global view of the nation, was rugby.

In 1981 the Irish international rugby team toured South Africa but three of the team – Hugo McNeill, Tony Ward and Moss Keane – refused to go to the apartheid state. They joined a wider global refusal to engage with South Africa in the sporting arena while the apartheid regime continued.

McNeill was on yesterday’s Off the Ball, along with Trevor Hogan, and in the aftermath of the death of Nelson Mandela McNeill he spoke about his decision to boycott the tour, its ramifications and the reaction within Irish rugby.

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Image: Hugo McNeill playing for Ireland V Australia in the 1987 World Cup ©INPHO/Billy Stickland