BDS Leads Calls for South African Football Club to Boycott Match With Israeli Team
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and other pro-Palestine organizations, along with football fans across South Africa, have urged one of the country’s most popular clubs, the Orlando Pirates, to cancel their pre-season friendly match with an Israeli team, according to multiple news reports on Monday, July 10. The Orlando Pirates are scheduled to play the Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv on July 13 in the city of Marbella in Spain. Despite increasing pressure and appeals from all quarters, the Pirates have justified the decision to participate in the match citing rules of the world’s football governing body FIFA, saying they must adhere to the rules in order to safeguard the club’s reputation and future.
On Monday, hours after the club rejected an appeal by the BDS to cancel the match, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) said that the club will be guilty of “sportswashing” if it goes ahead with the match against the Israeli team. It said that the club has a moral obligation to boycott the match, referring to its anti-apartheid past when it routinely went against apartheid rules and policies of the time, hired black South African footballers, and supported the international boycott of the apartheid government. It had even been banned from using government infrastructure in the apartheid era.
PACBI stated that the “Palestinians are not calling for charity but for the most basic form of solidarity, and that is to do no harm to our struggle for freedom, justice and equality. Playing with a team representing apartheid Israel would normalize apartheid and sportswash it, and that would harm our struggle for a future without apartheid and settler-colonialism. Just as those who fought apartheid in South Africa expected international teams to heed the call from the oppressed South African majority not to play with representatives of that regime, Palestinians are asking Orlando Pirates not to play with Maccabi Tel Aviv.”
In response to the boycott calls, the club in a statement released on Monday said that “Orlando Pirates is participating in a pre-season camp organized by a Fifa match agent involving numerous clubs from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The Pirates had no liaisons with any participating club or the organizers relating to fixtures. The fixtures were arrived at independently by the organizers. The Orlando Pirates have no hand in organizing the event. It is an important fact that all the participating clubs are Fifa affiliates regulated by Fifa statutes.”
The club also stated that as an organization with roots in apartheid South Africa, it was also active in the effort to end apartheid and is “naturally conscious of the plight of the Palestinian people” and hopeful for a resolution to the conflict. However, when it came to the boycott, the club passed the buck to the South African government, saying that “there is no cultural boycott or boycott of any form by either the South African government, Fifa, or the host country on which Orlando Pirates can base their refusal to play against Maccabi Tel Aviv.”
Meanwhile, pressure on the club to boycott the match continues to mount. Former anti-apartheid activist and cabinet minister and decades-old fan of the club. Ronnie Kasrils, has also expressed disappointment at the club’s decision. Kasrils is a former Marxist revolutionary and anti-apartheid activist who later served in the South African government as minister of intelligence services. In a statement, he urged the club to boycott the match, saying, “may I remind Orlando Pirates of their proud origins as a people’s football club and fraternity, which was supported and adored as much for their soccer skills as an inspirational source of pride in their non-racism under apartheid. It is thus an immense disappointment, to say the least, that the noble Buccaneers [Pirates’ nickname] are set to sully their human rights record by being prepared to engage in a match with an apartheid Israel team that will distress all freedom-loving people, insult the Palestinian people under the boots of a colonial settler system, and fail to support the similar boycott call, that helped topple white supremacy in South Africa.”
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has extended its support to the boycott calls but said that it can’t apply any external political pressure to make the club abide by the boycott. ANC’s first deputy secretary general Nomvula Mokonyane said that it might be too late at this stage for the government to tell the club to cancel the match, however, the club must not ignore the country’s historic solidarity and support for the Palestinian cause. He called on the club to call off this “disgraceful game which gives succor to the murderous apartheid regime.”
Several news articles have also appeared written by long-standing Pirates fans expressing disappointment over the club’s decision.
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