British Lion John Taylor’s principled stand helped bring down apartheid

Rugby legend John Taylor was the British Lion whose principled stand against apartheid provided sport with its template to bring down a repellent regime.

Former Wales flanker Taylor was the first major sportsman to announce he would not play against South Africa while it was governed by racists.

Initially he was ostracised within the game but the man who went on to become ITV’s voice of rugby would later be vindicated.

Now 75, Taylor said: “I was a young schoolteacher at a huge comprehensive in Putney – 2,000 pupils, a very multi-ethnic and multi-racial intake – and I wanted to look them in the eye.

“Although I already had misgivings about the apartheid regime, I desperately wanted to play for the British Lions, so I went on the 1968 Lions tour of South Africa with some reservations.

“By the time I came home from the tour, those misgivings had turned into absolute convictions. I decided I was not going to play against South Africa as a matter of conscience.

“Taking international rugby and cricket away from them was one way of making life difficult for them and that sporting isolation might work where other sanctions did not.

“I genuinely felt if I played against South Africa I was letting the kids down at school. The moment I made my stand the floodgates opened and the amount of support I received was huge.

“I got a letter from the Welsh RFU saying it would be treated as a matter of conscience and everyone understood my point of view.

"Mysteriously, I was left out of the Wales squad for the first three matches of the Five Nations in 1970, and I was only restored to the team after a 14-0 defeat by Ireland.

“But the reaction in England was unequivocal. I was told, in no uncertain terms, by a couple of senior and hugely influential voices at the RFU that I was an upstart who would never be allowed to play international rugby again.”

It was only when the trade union movement swung behind Taylor that opinion within the sport swung irreversibly in his favour.

He said: “A Welsh miners petition said I had been left out of the side unfairly, and the National Union of Mineworkers made me their sportsman of the year.

“Looking back, I am satisfied that I made the right decision. But more importantly, it was effective."

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