Orlando Pirates insist on match with Israeli club in Spain, but pressure mounts as ANC adds voice

Orlando Pirates Football Club Chairman Dr Irvin Khoza addressing the media during a press conference held at Rand Stadium. File Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Orlando Pirates Football Club Chairman Dr Irvin Khoza addressing the media during a press conference held at Rand Stadium. File Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Published Jul 10, 2023


Some Orlando Pirates FC fans who are sympathetic to Palestinians' plight in their decades-long battle with Israel, have threatened to stop supporting the ‘Sea Robbers’ if they go ahead with their scheduled friendly match with Israeli club side Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the ANC also saying a cultural boycott may be necessary.

The Sea Robbers of Soweto are scheduled to play in a pre-season friendly match with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Spain on Thursday evening.

But some Bucs fans are not happy about the club going ahead with this match after the BDS Movement called on the Pirates not to partake in the match, citing the violence of ‘apartheid Israel’ on the Palestinian people.

One of these fans is former Cape Times and Cape Argus editor, Gasant Abarder, who is a long-time fan of the Soweto club. He wrote in his Cape Town ETC column, Slice of Gasant, that he would end his over 20-year support for the Buccaneers if they persisted and went ahead to play against Maccabi.

He wrote: “If you go ahead with this friendly, I am done supporting Orlando Pirates. It will be a betrayal of all your club stands for and has the danger of wiping away an 86-year legacy of being on the right side of the fight and morality”.

The governing party, the ANC, has also reportedly expressed concern that the one-time African champions of 1995 would play with the Israeli club.

ANC deputy secretary general Nomvula Monkonyane told News24 that the governing party was in touch with Orlando Pirates and “our comrades in Palestine”.

She added that although there was no cultural boycott against Palestine, it may become necessary to aggressively look into it - with the trade of grapes and vegetables set to be affected if it was enforced.

"As the ANC, what we want is to register what we are concerned about what has been happening in Palestine.

"We note what has been a call from civil society calling Orlando Pirates not to play the match. We want to register an important discussion about a cultural boycott.

"This is a reminder that there must be discourse around a cultural boycott, including the grapes and vegetables we get from Israel. There must be a time when we become aggressive towards Israel," she was quoted as saying.

Pirates, who are the reigning Nedbank Cup and MTN8 champions, released a lengthy statement on Monday, saying they would go ahead with the match and explaining that they were participating in the pre-season camp at the invitation of a Fifa Match Agent who had invited other clubs from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

“Orlando Pirates had no liaisons with any participating club or the organisers relating to fixtures.

“The fixtures were arrived at independently by the organisers.

“It is an important fact that all the participating clubs are Fifa affiliates regulated by Fifa statutes,” said the club.

The club leadership said Orlando Pirates was “a socially conscious club that fully understands that it exists for the community and society," citing how it was banned by the apartheid government for forcibly being a non-racial football club with black and white players in its ranks.

It also said it had participated in efforts to counter abuse against women and children, and xenophobic attacks, and had joined hands with Kaizer Chiefs and Multichoice, to donate PPE supplies for frontline workers, the SAPS, and the SANDF during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“As a club that has its roots in a conflict-ridden South Africa and has been an active participant in the dismantling of apartheid, Orlando Pirates is naturally conscious of the plight of the Palestinian people.

“Of the many forces that seek a long overdue solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Orlando Pirates stand with those that believe a path exists for men and women of courage to continue coming together to find a lasting solution that South Africa proved to the world can be found when there is a will and courage,” said the club.

But Pirates club leadership explained that they believed in the rule of law, and because there was no boycott from the SA government or Fifa, they had no reason to accede to demands not to play Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“Heeding a call from any other body would create a conflict within Orlando Pirates that would undermine the club’s values and history irreparably,” the club said.

Abarder wrote that Orlando Pirates had no business playing against a club whose government was “showing zero mercy against women and children”.

“There is nothing friendly about apartheid Israel.

“There is nothing friendly about a murderous regime that has no regard for life – even whilst people are praying peacefully in a mosque.

“There is nothing friendly about invading people’s homes and stealing their land.

“There is nothing friendly about Israeli soldiers showing zero mercy against women and children.

“As a fan, I am urging you not to play on the same field as this club from a terrorist state.

"Your history and your continuing story as a force in the fabric of South African life can never be underplayed,” wrote Abader.

The BDS Movement said on Monday that Orlando Pirates still had a chance to withdraw from the match.

“South Africans, Palestinians, and all peoples that have struggled against oppression know too well that our liberation will ultimately come from grassroots solidarity forcing the hand of corrupt institutions and complicit states to respect international law.

“Orlando Pirates can withdraw from this sportswashing match, and they are morally obliged to do so.

“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,” said the BDS Movement in a statement.

The BDS Movement said just as South Africans expected international teams to heed the call from the oppressed South African majority not to play with representatives of the apartheid regime, Palestinians asked Orlando Pirates not to play with Maccabi Tel Aviv on the same grounds.

“As millions of Palestinians face apartheid-Israel’s ongoing, decades-long violent and deadly oppression, Orlando Pirates’ failure to heed our call is exactly what would “undermine the club’s values.”

“Orlando Pirates, withdraw from the match. There's nothing “friendly” about apartheid,” the BDS Movement said.

— Mbekezeli (@MbekezeliMB) July 10, 2023