Cricket South Africa has been accused of stripping SA Under-19 cricketer David Teeger of the captaincy due to his Jewish faith after he made comments in support of the Israeli soldiers taking part in the war in Gaza, describing them as heroes.
The Democratic Alliance and the SA Zionist Federation said CSA’s public reasons for stripping Teeger of the captaincy due to security threats were a ruse and have threatened to report the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission and the International Cricket Council respectively.
CSA announced on Friday that Teeger had been stripped of the captaincy for safety and security reasons ahead of the U19 Cricket World Cup, which is being held in SA.
CSA said risk assessments found that there would be protests related to the war in Gaza, with Teeger said to be one of the targets of the protests after he praised Israeli soldiers in October last year when he was awarded the Rising Star Award at the Absa Jewish Achiever Rising Star.
He used his speech to pay tribute to Israeli soldiers, saying: “Yes, I’ve been (given) this award, and, yes, I’m now the Rising Star, but the true rising stars are the young soldiers in Israel”.
CSA and the Lions Cricket Board commissioned Advocate Wim Trengove SC to conduct an independent inquiry into Teeger’s comments and probe whether the King Edward VII School head prefect had violated the code of conduct of the two organisations.
Trengrove cleared Teeger on the basis that the comments were made in his personal capacity, to a Jewish audience. He found the comments were unrelated to cricket and thus not detrimental to the sport or inter-team relations.
“Teeger expressed views which are very offensive to some. But they are also views shared by others, even if they could be said to be those of a minority, they cannot be said to be ‘unbecoming or detrimental conduct’.
“There is nothing unbecoming or detrimental about an opinion expressed seriously and in good faith, however offensive it might be to some,” said Trengrove.
During proceedings, CSA Pholetsi Moseki argued said the young cricketer’s statements were inconsistent with the organisation’s objective of fostering inclusivity and diversity in cricket, while Dr Mohammed Moosajee, the president of the Lions Cricket Board, detailed in his affidavit the grievances lodged against Teeger, including those from sponsors, pro-Palestinian groups, and cricket clubs, who demanded Teeger’s removal as the South African U19 captain.
In his defence, Teeger said he expressed a personal view and expressed regret for not foreseeing the potential media scrutiny, emphasising that his comments were not meant to represent CSA, the Lions, or any teams he played for.
In a statement on Friday, the SA Zionist Federation (SAZF) condemned the decision and rejected CSA’s security threat advanced argument.
“This decision, purportedly made due to ‘security’ considerations as a result of the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict, is a blatant act of discrimination and antisemitism against a Jewish player.
“The action taken against Teeger, who is Jewish, solely based on his religious identity and personal beliefs, is deeply troubling and sets a dangerous precedent for sports in this country.
“It is an affront to the values of diversity, inclusivity, and the spirit of sportsmanship that cricket and indeed all sports are supposed to embody. Discrimination on the grounds of religion or personal belief is unacceptable in any form and should have no place in sports, which are supposed to unite people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs,” said the SAZF.
DA MP and spokesperson on sport, Veronica van Dyk, said in a statement that the decision by CSA was misguided.
“This decision is particularly galling given that the current chairperson of CSA, Lawson Naidoo, is also the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and regularly styles himself as a human rights defender.
“By bending the knee before threats of violence, Naidoo and the organisation he chairs have taken the coward’s way out and betrayed the values enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
“Instead of kowtowing to bullies, CSA has a duty to uphold the rule of law. This means protecting the rights of players, including their rights to free expression, belief, conscience, and religion, from those who would commit violence against them,” said van Dyk.
The SAZF said the threats of violence against Teeger were unconvincing and no explanation had been made about how or why they were incapable or unwilling to put security measures to ensure the safety of participants and spectators.
“This decision not only unfairly penalises Teeger but also potentially endangers the principle of religious freedom and expression in sports. It is an action that cannot be justified under the guise of safety, especially without transparent evidence supporting such a claim.
“The SAZF calls upon CSA to provide a full and transparent explanation for the pressure brought to bear that led to this decision.
“Furthermore, we demand an immediate apology from CSA to Mr Teeger and call for his reinstatement as the captain of the South African U19 cricket team. Failure to do so would not only be an injustice to him but also a disservice to the principles of equality and fairness,” said SAZF.
The DA has also called for Teeger to be reinstated and has threatened to file a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission.
“Allowing this precedent to stand would set us on a dangerous path. Will CSA next strip the captaincy from a Muslim player if anti-Muslim groups threaten to protest?
“Will it drop players from the side on the basis of their skin colour, if racists threaten violence? The DA calls on CSA to immediately reverse this decision,” said van Dyk.
Meanwhile, some members of the public have defended the decision by the CSA, while some have criticized the cricket body for failing to protect its player.
Meanwhile, this week, the International Court of Justice heard arguments from South Africa after it made an application seeking to declare Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as tantamount to genocide.
Israel also made representations before the world court, emphasizing its right to defence.
Over 20,000 people in Gaza have been killed since October 7 when armed Hamas militants infiltrated Israel and killed over 1,200 people.
A ruling is expected in the coming days or weeks.