It has often been said in recent weeks following the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup triumph that sport is the one thing that unites us, albeit briefly. But this week’s David Teeger incident shows us how easily sport can also be used to bring out division, hatred and intolerance.
Teeger, the schoolboy captain of the Proteas under-19 national cricket team, is being investigated because of remarks he made in support of the Israeli army after he won the Rising Star category at the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards in Johannesburg.
“I’m now the rising star, but the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel,” he was reported to have said, “And I’d like to dedicate [my award] to the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Inquiry to investigate SA under-19 cricket captain’s pro-Israel comments at awards ceremony
The Palestine Solidarity Alliance laid a complaint with the cricket authorities and Cricket South Africa appointed the highly respected Advocate Wim Trengove SC to conduct an independent inquiry into whether Teeger breached their code of conduct.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was quoted saying Teeger saw fit “to honour the genocidaires, rendering himself unfit to represent our country on the world cricketing stage”.
I am not going to go into the merits of Teeger’s views, other than to point out that he did not celebrate genocide or express a bloodthirsty desire for revenge – which may have taken him into the category of illegal hate speech.
If it came anywhere close to hate speech, one can see that this might breach the sporting code. But short of that, if they go after Teeger they would be signalling that their selection criteria will take into account whether a player has unpopular views on contentious subjects.
I don’t agree with his view (and signed the letter from 700+ South African Jews calling for a ceasefire), but that does not stop me being deeply concerned that he should face official censure for what he said. I will defend his right to say what he wants to say.
The Israel-Gaza war is a deeply divisive one, playing out in the streets and corridors of power across the world, made more difficult by the loudness of the extremist voices on both sides shouting down each other’s and every other view. Unless you are among those on either side who want to see the total annihilation of the other side, you have to at least be open to the possibility that there are different views on this issue and sitting here in South Africa we need to have them all thrown into the mix for an enlightening discussion over how to find a solution to one of the world’s most ugly deadlocks.
BDS might be angered and revolted by Teeger’s views, as they are entitled to be, and to express their views. They can protest or boycott or use the legitimate means available to them in a democracy to try to make him change his mind. But should the authorities silence him, and forbid him from holding heartfelt views?
Will our sports players be made to choose between expressing their views or playing for their country? Will they be forbidden from expressing unpopular views? Will this extend to other controversial or minority views? What other factors might be brought in to override cricketing skill as criteria for selection? Where does this stop?
The Teeger affair is deeply concerning because it is a clear sign of a growing intolerance for views that are deemed unacceptable and a desire not to even hear views that don’t fall into line. It indicates the increasing dominance of those whose moral certainty overrules any willingness to acknowledge anything of value on the other side.
Punish Teeger and it won’t just be our cricket that suffers.
The cricket code should be interpreted within the framework of our Constitution and the core values it espouses of openness and tolerance. The only speech that is not protected by our Constitution is hate speech, propaganda for war or incitement to violence.
Short of that, we may not like Teeger’s views, but we should not persecute him for expressing them.
Similarly, the Democratic Alliance – which demoted party frontbencher Ghaleb Cachalia for speaking out on the same issue before there was an agreed party line – needs to recognise that if they are to be a diverse, broadly representative party, they will have in their ranks different views on issues such as this where passions run high.
Unless they adopt the ANC’s form of democratic centralism – where one is expected to fall in line with the majority – they will need to make space for the fact that even people who share core values might have different views on such difficult topics.
These cases reflect a global problem: too much shouting, too little listening. It is a situation where extremism triumphs through brashness because more considered voices are drowned out. DM