For heaven’s sake, depoliticise sports

Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Kenneth Mokgatlhe

Published Jan 18, 2024


Kenneth Mokgatlhe

It was the late statesman Nelson Mandela who reminded us that “sports has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair”.

The recent nonsensical decision by Cricket SA (CSA) to strip David Teeger of the captaincy of the SA Under 19 team cannot be justifiable in our reputed democracy. The young man was cleared of any wrongdoing by an independent adjudicator. Is the CSA not happy with the outcome of the investigations into sentiments expressed by Teeger that were instituted by the CSA itself? Those who accused Teeger of wrongdoing should surely be apologising to him instead of causing him yet more distress.

The timing of demoting Teeger is of interest as it happened during the International Court of Justice’s case where South Africa is accusing Israel of possible acts of genocide against the people of Gaza. the CSA’s excuse was that there were “security concerns”. It is highly plausible, however, that there was direct political interference aimed at pressuring the CSA to unceremoniously dethrone Teeger on the eve of the tournament.

Are we going to be coerced into making foolish, unjustified and unfair decisions because a group of people threaten to terrorise us? Teeger has done nothing to justify the CSA’s fallacious action, therefore he should be reinstated to his captaincy position. Those who believe that he has done wrong have to exploit possible legal avenues to challenge what is on the table rather than thrive on the spirit of terror and aggression.

South Africa, under the ANC, is being turned into a useful tool for the East-West ideological battle. A few months ago, we were accused of helping Russia with armaments, which has not helped our struggling relationship with the Western powers. Our not-so-revolutionary Foreign Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor further had a “cosy” phone call with her friends, the bloodthirsty Hamas organisation. The ANC could not wait to meet their Hamas friends barely three weeks after the brutal attacks it carried out against Israel.

The treatment of Teeger does not only undermine him but goes further to undermine the citizens of this country. Our leaders appear to wake up in the morning and decide what should happen, without justification or reasoning. We should be taken seriously as people, and those in authority should be held accountable for their actions or inaction.

The irrational demotion of this young man reminds me of some senior journalists in the newsroom claiming to be non-partisan and objective. They have accused me of being less of a journalist because I was once associated with a political formation. However, what they conveniently forget is that many of them too were youth leaders or soldiers during the height of the Struggle.

Aristotle reminds us that a man is by nature a political animal. This means that we all are influenced by politics, like it or not. It also denotes that each person has political views. Are sportsmen or journalists not allowed to vote and align themselves with the party of their choice? They are indeed, which proves that they are political animals.

Is it wrong for Teeger to hold political views? No, we should encourage more young people to engage in politics and current affairs in general. Young people must have a say about what is happening around them, and should be allowed to hold and express their views on the issues of the day, be it climate change, conflict, sports, technology and science, politics, food security, gender-based violence and other topical issues.

While we are always going to hold conflicting views on political questions, it is a sport that will enable us to have common grounds and positively engage with one another. Cricket SA does not have a right to punish players for their political views. Had David Teeger expressed his support for the other side of the conflict, Palestine, would he have suffered the same fate? If he had wrapped his neck with a Palestinian flag, would he have been demoted? I doubt it.

What I am seeing instead is a fixated position by South Africa resulting in those who think differently being labelled as sell-outs.

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a political writer and columnist studying Master's at Ben Gurion University in Israel.

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