Appeasement in advance: Terrence Corrigan on David Teeger’s demotion as u19 Proteas captain

In the midst of South Africa’s sports fervour, the demotion of David Teeger as captain of the U19 Cricket team sparked controversy. Teeger, an observant Jew, faced backlash for praising the Israel Defence Forces during a ceremony. Despite being cleared of violating cricketing codes, he was removed due to potential protests and security concerns, leading to accusations of antisemitism. The move raises questions about sports administration’s politicisation in South Africa and the effectiveness of preemptive capitulation to perceived threats, signalling a troubling acceptance of coercion through violence in the country.

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By Terence Corrigan*

Sports-mad South Africa has a voracious appetite for news of all types about the affairs of its pitches, courts, and fields, and an emotional response to match. Where it intersects with another national fixation, politics, the intensity of feeling ramps up exponentially. To use a rather lame pun, sport is no game in this country. 

The latest illustration of this has been the demotion of David Teeger from the captaincy of the U19 Cricket team. The background is well known: Teeger, an observant Jew, received an achievement award in October last year, on which occasion he praised the soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces: ‘And I’d like to dedicate [my award] to the state of Israel and every single soldier fighting so that we can live and thrive in the diaspora.’ 

This was, of course, in the wake of fighting that erupted after Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October. The situation in this corner of the world has the capacity to incite a unique level of passion wholly out of proportion to South Africa’s ability to influence it (or for that matter, out of proportion to the country’s understanding of it). Following (inevitable) complaints about his words – complaints that the national governing body, Cricket South Africa (CSA), endorsed – the matter was subjected to an investigation by Wim Trengove. Teeger was comprehensively cleared. Trengove found that while it may have been controversial, what Teeger said hadn’t violated any cricketing codes of conduct. 

Demonstrations

Around a month later, Teeger was removed as captain. According to CSA, this was because he was likely to be the ‘focus’ of demonstrations that ‘could result in conflict or even violence, including between rival groups of protestors.’  

Its statement read: ‘CSA has a primary duty to safeguard the interests and safety of all those involved in the World Cup and must accordingly respect the expert advice of those responsible for the safety of participants and spectators. In all the circumstances, CSA has decided that David should be relieved of the captaincy for the tournament. This is in the best interests of all the players, the SA U19 team and David himself.’ 

Noble sentiments. A hard-headed exercise of the fiduciary duty that CSA owed to the game and its supporters, and also showing admirable concern for the young man whom the organisation had earlier believed to have contravened its standards of behaviour.  

As it happens, this was met by a great deal of cynicism, much of it expressed in accusations of antisemitism. The CSA board chairman, Lawson Naidoo, hit back that that was not deserving of a response. No, this really was about security. ‘People don’t understand the situation,’ he told News24, ‘We get advice from experts and it’s not our position to second guess them. The threats emanate from opportunistic elements who seek to maximise potential disruptions.’ 

Naidoo didn’t choose to share more so that people could in fact understand the situation to which he was privy, but media enquiries cast doubt on his account. Sources in the state security services and in the private security sector revealed no apparent knowledge of any threats. All of this raised the question whether the demotion was in fact really about punishing Teeger for his unpalatable views. Not able to get him on a legality, they went after him on a practicality.  

Hardly inconceivable

This is hardly inconceivable. South African sports administration has been a politicised affair since the 19th century, when Cecil John Rhodes intervened to prevent Krom Hendricks from touring England in 1894. CSA under its current leadership has not been averse to following in Rhodes’s footsteps, as it did when the board instructed the Proteas team to ‘take the knee’ ahead of a game against the West Indies in 2021.  

At the time, CSA was worried that a failure of the team to genuflect in lockstep might create an ‘unintended perception’ that not all the players were fully onside with the Black Lives Matter movement. Here, CSA actually mandated political speech, seemingly oblivious to the fact that citizens of a free democracy have every right (nay, a duty) to evaluate and express their political stances on the basis of their own convictions. Or that any gesture performed under instruction lacks moral conviction.

CSA’s conduct was the stuff of despots. Still, as Naidoo put it at the time: ‘Diversity can and should find expression in many facets of our daily lives, but not when it comes to taking a stand against racism.’ Or perhaps when it comes to the politics of the Middle East, too. 

Nevertheless, CSA’s claims that it is acting out of security concerns merits more attention than it has received. CSA and Naidoo believe that they’ve done the sport and its spectators a service. Having acted against the ‘focus’ of protestors’ wrath, they have ensured that the cricketing world can look forward to a smooth and peaceful tournament. Perhaps – though it is not apparent whether Teeger’s demotion will be sufficient to mollify some of the more excitable of the country’s activist community.  

Capitulating

But did CSA do society a service or a disservice by its actions? Pre-emptively capitulating to supposed demands – rather than, say, hiring more guards for crowd management – to forestall the violence that was supposedly in store communicates a very specific message: threats work. Threaten violence and we’ll surrender in advance. This is the case whether any threat was actually made or not.   

In this, CSA’s conduct is both sadly familiar and utterly destructive. Coercive violence can have no place in a constitutional democracy; such a system relies on a suite of institutions to provide avenues for the non-violent pursuit of political goals and to mediate the conflict that this inevitably generates. Debate and argument with the intent to persuade, or the use of an impartial legal system to compel, are the operative tools; a willingness to accept loss a condition. Violence is the strategy of the spoiler and the despot, aspirant or incumbent. 

South Africa has no lack of these. At times, this has been the tactic of the taxi industry, of worker unions, of student activists, of the Economic Freedom Fighters (‘Fighters Attack!’) and the so-called construction mafia. A threat to do damage is made to obtain concessions. After a hurried meeting with the local ‘business forum’ or the ‘Central Command’, the victim makes a declaration about the bounteous opportunities for cooperation and pledges to do better in future. And the extortionist has secured an implied warning to others. 

Of course, it needs to be recorded that (from the perspective of those on the receiving end of intimidation) this may seem the only route to go. After all, consequences for lawlessness are all too often light, ineffective, or might be forgone altogether. The more erudite and skilful interlocutors save an inch of face by dressing their appeasement up as an exercise in empathy in the face of weighty issues and deep emotions and the imperative of moving forward together. 

Effective tool

The real message, though, is that in South Africa, violence is an effective tool. This message may be  ‘unintended’,  but it is clear to anyone listening to it. 

One can’t help but remark in conclusion that Naidoo also serves as the Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution. This was launched with much fanfare in 2010 by a colloquium of the great and the good to – as its name suggests – ‘advance’ constitutional government. Central to this was to encourage understanding and active participation in constitutional governance. As its website says: ‘Once constitutional rights are claimed by the many, then ordinary people will undertake extraordinary acts to assert their rights, and protect and advance the Constitution.’ 

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*Terence Corrigan is the Project Manager at the Institute, where he specialises in work on property rights, as well as land and mining policy. 

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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