Cowardice of CSA undermines free speech in SA – Sara Gon

FSU says board must stand by its players, uphold their freedom of speech, and implement sufficient security at the venues

Free Speech Union: Cowardice of Cricket South Africa undermines free speech in South Africa

Cricket South Africa (CSA) and its Chairman, Lawson Naidoo, have brought South Africa into disrepute by dropping David Teeger as captain of the U19 squad. This action has drawn world-wide media attention, much of it detrimental to the image of the CSA.

The reasons Teeger faced an investigation are well known. The Palestinian Solidarity Alliance (PSA), a pro-Hamas pressure group, had complained to CSA claiming that a comment by Teeger was ‘clearly a provocative and inflamatory (sic) political statement’. The CSA instituted an independent enquiry to assess the charge.

The independent investigator, Advocate Wim Trengove SC, one of South Africa’s most respected advocates, dismissed the claim, finding that Teeger did not contravene CSA’s Code of Conduct.

He said: ‘The Constitutional Court has made the point that the right to freedom of expression does not protect hate speech, but emphasised that the expression of unpopular or even offensive beliefs does not constitute hate speech’. Trengove added that while Teeger may have offended some, his views were shared by others within the country and did not violate South African law nor the CSA code of conduct.

However, CSA still buckled to the PSA’s demand instead of standing up for Teeger’s right to free speech and at most giving him a wrap over the knuckles for a youthful indiscretion.

The CSA leadership decided on Friday to drop Teeger as captain of South Africa’s U19 Men’s Cricket World Cup because it was expecting protests relating to the war in Gaza at tournament venues. CSA said it had been advised that the demonstrations were likely to focus on Teeger and that ‘there is a risk that they could result in conflict or even violence, including between rival groups of [protesters]’.

According to Rapport Netwerk24 (14 January 2024 - paywalled), senior sources involved in making the threat assessment cross the country said that there is no information to suggest that the security threat at any game would be greater if Teeger retained his position.

This action was at best naïve. Teeger’s mere presence in the team as a Jew, whether as captain or not, would likely be sufficient to spark protests. Sure enough, on 13 January, a day after CSA’s announcement, the PSA applied to hold a ‘peaceful protest’ ahead of the opening game of the U19 World Cup 2024.

However, another concern arises for FSU SA: the Minister of Sport, Arts & Culture, Zizi Kodwa, tweeted on 9 January: ‘Today, I met with the South African Under-19 men’s cricket team who will represent the country in the @ICC Under-19 World Cup on home soil. I impressed on the team the meaning of representing the country, and encouraged them to represent us well as they raise the country’s flag’.

Rapport further says that there was political interference in CSA’s decision. CSA asked Teeger, after the meeting with Kodwa, to voluntarily relinquish his captaincy early in the week, which he refused to do. Some of those present said it felt like Kodwa was talking about Teeger's situation without naming him. The CSA Council then met on Thursday and decided to relieve him of his captaincy.

Ironically, the only reason South Africa is hosting the tournament at short notice is because Sri Lanka’s cricket board, the original host, was suspended by the ICC for failing to manage its affairs autonomously and without government interference.

The entity has a history of interfering in the sport, for instance by introducing racial quotas in team selection or when ordering its players to take a knee before matches in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at the T20 World Cup in 2021.

In the circumstances FSU SA calls for the reversal of the decision against Teeger and the resignation of CEO Naidoo.

The board of CSA must stand by its players, uphold their freedom of speech, and implement sufficient security at the venues to ensure that the PSA’s freedom to protest does not interrupt the proceedings or descend into violence.

Issued by Sara Gon, FSU-SA Director, 15 January 2024