Johannesburg - One of South Africa’s most beloved soccer teams, Orlando Pirates, said they would continue to play a friendly match with an Israeli team in Spain despite opposition from some lobby groups.
The football team released a statement yesterday explaining that the club had a long history of being vocal about political injustice and human rights issues, but they would continue with the match against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“Orlando Pirates’ core functioning is governed by rules. It is to the rules that Orlando Pirates went when confronted with calls to withdraw from playing Maccabi Tel Aviv. There is no cultural boycott of any form by either the South African government, Fifa, or the host country that Orlando Pirates can base its refusal to play against Maccabi Tel Aviv on. 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 it was naturally conscious of the plight of the Palestinian people and of the many forces that seek a long-overdue solution to the IsraeliPalestinian 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,” the club said.
It said it was participating in a pre-season camp organised by a Fifa match agent involving clubs from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
“Orlando Pirates have no hand in organising the event. In fact, Orlando Pirates needed to fulfil criteria qualifying us to participate. 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.”
Meanwhile, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) coalition said there was nothing friendly about the match between Orlando Pirates and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“There is nothing ‘friendly’ about playing Maccabi Tel Aviv, a team representing apartheid Israel. The reality of football for Palestinians is very different from that of Israelis, reminiscent of sport under apartheid South Africa,” BDS co-ordinator Roshan Dadoo said.
According to the BDS, last month a Palestinian football player, 24-year-old Omar Qatin, was killed by an occupation force soldier while he was helping his neighbours as illegal settlers rampaged through the West Bank town.
“There is now an international consensus that Israel commits the crime against humanity of apartheid as defined in the UN Apartheid Convention. The Palestinian people have made a call on the international community to boycott, divest and impose sanctions on apartheid Israel just as we called on the world to isolate apartheid South Africa,” Dadoo said.
On the other hand, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies welcomed the decision by Pirates to continue with their planned match. The organisation said it still believed in a two-state solution between Palestine and Israel.