The 1986 Commonwealth games: Scotland, South Africa, sporting boycotts, and the former British Empire

Matthew McDowell, Fiona Skillen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines Scottish reactions to African, Asian, Caribbean and other nations’ boycotts of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. These boycotts occurred over the UK Government’s support of trade with apartheid South Africa, and over the inclusion in the England team of South African-born Zola Budd and Annette Cowley. This piece focuses in part on the political reaction, both by Scotland’s Westminster MPs, and also by Edinburgh District Council – the latter led by the Labour Party, and keen to show their opposition to apartheid. However, it also focuses on the press reaction to these boycotts, which was rarely supportive of boycotting nations, with some of the more left-liberal outlets largely defensive over Scotland’s participation in anti-apartheid politics. The highly mediated public reaction is additionally gauged through letters to newspaper editors. Whilst some displayed anger over the position of the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, and others consternation over the impotent political position of Scotland within the wider UK, most letters were overwhelmingly hostile to the boycotters, and linked their disgust to a nostalgia for the British Empire (some of it racially tinged), and accordingly an inability of athletes and sporting authorities to keep politics out of sport.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)384-397
Number of pages14
JournalSport in Society
Issue number3
Early online date14 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2017


  • Commonwealth Games
  • Scotland
  • South Africa
  • apartheid
  • Edinburgh
  • Edinburgh District Council
  • media


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