In 1971, an aspiring tennis player named Hoosen Bobat faced a harsh reality that still lingers within him to this day, more than five decades later.
Bobat, an 18-year-old talent from South Africa, had already triumphed in his national junior championship and earned a coveted spot to compete in the Wimbledon junior championships. However, an insurmountable obstacle obstructed his path—the color of his skin.
Recalling the pivotal moment, Bobat shared his experience of receiving a telegram from the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF) two weeks prior to the commencement of Wimbledon. The message requested a meeting at the ILTF’s headquarters in London, where he was instructed to bring his captain. The significance of this encounter would forever be etched in Bobat’s memory.
Upon entering the office of LTA secretary Basil Reay, Bobat and his captain were confronted by an all-too-familiar face—Alfred Chambers, the head of the white racist tennis organization in South Africa at the time. Chambers had come to oppose Bobat’s participation in junior Wimbledon.
During the meeting, Chambers argued that Bobat was not South Africa’s top-ranked player and lacked affiliation with a recognized tennis body. In response, Bobat, as a person of color, pointed out that he was prohibited from playing against the best and had joined a tennis club in north London upon arriving in the UK, where he had participated in numerous tournaments.
After an hour of deliberation, Basil Reay abruptly rose from his seat, declaring his intention to instruct the All England Club to remove Bobat’s name from the draw. In that instant, Bobat’s dreams were shattered—game, set, and match.
The significance of Bobat’s exclusion from Wimbledon in 1971 might have remained confined had it not been for Saleem Badat, a history professor and the first black vice-chancellor of Rhodes University in South Africa. Badat, a close friend of Bobat for nearly five decades, authored a book exploring non-racial tennis in South Africa during the apartheid era. Moved by Bobat’s ordeal, Badat wrote to Sally Bolton, the chief executive of the All England Lawn Tennis Association, seeking an apology.
In response, Bolton expressed her unavailability for a meeting, citing her busy schedule, and indicated that the club historian was investigating the entry process in 1971. For Bobat, the unanswered questions persist, accompanied by a sense of what might have been.
Reflecting on the impact that participating in Junior Wimbledon could have had on his life, Bobat wonders about the possibilities. The chance to play at Wimbledon, a dream shared by countless children, could have been a gateway to a thriving tennis career—a beacon of inspiration for every black child in South Africa. It would have demonstrated that anyone, regardless of the struggles and hardships imposed by the apartheid regime, could rise to the top.
While the book written by Badat has provided some measure of catharsis, closure eludes Bobat. Who made the decision? Was it the act of an individual or a committee? On what basis was he removed from the draw? These questions continue to haunt him, emphasizing the glaring lack of answers.
Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, Sally Bolton assured the BBC that the matter was receiving attention. The All England Lawn Tennis Association is investing time and effort in delving into their archives to gain a comprehensive understanding of the entries for the Junior Championships in 1971. Furthermore, they have reached out to Hoosen Bobat, expressing their eagerness to engage in dialogue. Their focus now lies in uncovering the truth.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Apartheid’s Legacy
Q: Why was Hoosen Bobat excluded from Junior Wimbledon in 1971?
A: Hoosen Bobat was excluded from Junior Wimbledon in 1971 due to apartheid policies that discriminated based on the color of his skin. Despite his achievements and qualifications, his entry was objected to by Alfred Chambers, the head of the white racist tennis body in South Africa at that time.
Q: Did Hoosen Bobat receive an apology for his exclusion?
A: Hoosen Bobat’s friend, Saleem Badat, wrote to the All England Lawn Tennis Association seeking an apology. The association acknowledged the matter and expressed a willingness to investigate and understand the events surrounding the entry process in 1971. However, at the time of this text, it is unclear if Bobat has received an apology.
Q: How would playing at Junior Wimbledon have impacted Hoosen Bobat’s life?
A: Playing at Junior Wimbledon would have been a significant opportunity for Hoosen Bobat. It could have served as a gateway to a future tennis career and would have been an inspiration for black children in South Africa, demonstrating that anyone can achieve success despite the struggles and hardships imposed by the apartheid regime.
Q: Are there lingering questions regarding Hoosen Bobat’s exclusion?
A: Yes, there are still unanswered questions surrounding Hoosen Bobat’s exclusion from Junior Wimbledon. Bobat wonders who made the decision, whether it was an individual or a committee, and on what basis he was removed from the draw. These unanswered questions contribute to the lack of closure for him.