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All Black looks back at Springboks tour, 40 years on

Forty years on to the day from the kick off of the Springboks’ infamous 1981 tour of New Zealand, former All Black and activist Bob Burgess says a lot more needs to be done around race relations in Aotearoa.

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The former All Black and activist reflected on 40 years since the Springboks played the first game of their tour in New Zealand. Source: Breakfast

The tour that lasted nearly 60 days was a terrible time in the nation's history, with the country torn in two - pro-tour and anti-tour.

Police marched with batons and protesters fought with noise and anger against the whites only South Africa being in New Zealand.

South Africans pre-1994 lived under apartheid - a system favouring the white colonial population while actively suppressing the majority indigenous Black population and other non-whites.

In New Zealand, most rugby players insisted rugby was sport and the rest was politics.

But Burgess was an All Black and he refused to play the Springboks, even before the 1981 protests.

In fact, in 1971, he refused to even participate in the All Blacks trials because the team being picked was going to South Africa.

In 1981, Burgess campaigned against the tour.

"I think it was pretty simple, simply a matter of fairness for it seemed 100 years that whenever a touring team from New Zealand went to South Africa or a South African team came to New Zealand it was only white players," he told Breakfast this morning.

"Māori were excluded from teams representing New Zealand, back in 1928 George Nēpia didn't go, 1939-40 Everard Jackson was told to not make himself available because he was Māori."

Police clash with protesters during the 1981 Springboks tour of New Zealand. Source: Seven Sharp

Burgess said he met Nēpia - Māori and one of New Zealand's greatest players - in the late 1970s and got the sense he was still "quite bitter".

"I understood that he wasn't even told anything about it, he was simply not selected.

"There was the 'no Māori, no tour' movement in 1960, a New Zealand team went to South Africa without any Māori players, so for me it was simply a matter of fairness."

However, Burgess said more needs to be done.

"South African apartheid was one very major issue to do with racism, that was a whole system of government that was about white supremacy, but in New Zealand we've got all of these issues to do with race relations here," he said.

Bob Burgess. Source: Breakfast

"For that reason I continue to feel that there is so much to be done still, that there needs to be a lot of activity around those issues now."