Teeger cleared of wrongdoing in independent inquiry
Following weeks of vitriolic abuse, Absa Jewish Achiever Rising Star and Under-19 Proteas cricket captain, David Teeger, has been cleared of breaching provisions of the codes of conduct of Cricket South Africa (CSA) and the Central Gauteng Lions (Lions).
This was the determination released by Advocate Wim Trengove SC on 5 December following the independent inquiry he was enlisted to conduct by the two cricketing bodies.
When Teeger, an 18-year-old matric pupil and head boy of King Edward VII school, dedicated his Rising Star Award to the young soldiers in Israel in his impromptu acceptance speech at the Absa Jewish Achievers Awards on 22 October to rapturous applause, he had no idea of the career-threatening backlash that would follow. After Teeger’s acceptance speech was publicised, the CSA and the Lions, where he had also been selected as part of the Under-19 team, received multiple complaints amid the unrelenting media storm.
Against this backdrop, CSA and Lions appointed Trengove as an independent adjudicator. He was asked to determine what statements Teeger had made concerning Israel and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) at the awards ceremony; whether these statements were in breach of certain provisions of the CSA and Lions codes of conduct; and what sanction should be imposed should Teeger be found to be in breach of any of those provisions.
In an affidavit, CSA Chief Executive Pholetsi Moseki charged that Teeger had breached the codes of conduct of both cricketing entities, and argued that Teeger’s statements undermined the CSA’s aim of promoting inclusivity and diversity in cricket.
Moseki stated that Teeger’s remarks were made “in a context where the actions of the IDF have been widely condemned and are considered a violation of international law”, presumably referring to the view of the South African government, which has referred the “situation in Palestine” to the International Criminal Court to investigate accusations of war crimes.
In his affidavit, the president of the Lions Cricket Board, Dr Mohammed Moosajee, laid out complaints received including those by a disgruntled sponsor, pro-Palestinian organisations, and cricket clubs, who called for Teeger’s dismissal as captain of the South African Under-19 side.
The Palestine Solidarity Alliance was also given permission to make submissions to the inquiry. An excerpt of its letter of complaint reads, “His [Teeger’s] unambiguous blind support for war demonstrates an indifference to the suffering of innocent civilians of Gaza who have lost their homes, livelihood, family members, and lives as a direct result of the actions of those soldiers that he admires.”
In his response to the accusations levelled against him, Teeger argued that his comments were a personal reflection and “an expression of appreciation for the efforts of soldiers who were mobilised to protect the citizens of Israel and to secure the release of the hostages taken by Hamas”.
“I regret not giving more consideration to whether my impromptu comments would be scrutinised given my growing prominence in sport or that these comments may be repeated in the media,” he said, “although I maintain that my comments cannot reasonably be interpreted to be representative of the position of CSA, the Lions, or any of the teams in which I participate, and at the time, I didn’t intend or foresee that anyone would interpret the comments in this way.”
In his replying affidavit, Teeger also emphasised that he didn’t express any support for genocide or condonation of hatred based on race, ethnicity, or religion. Acknowledging the strongly held views on both sides of the conflict, he said, “Disagreeing in a respectful manner on a contested and emotionally charged matter is a fundamental pillar of our democracy and Constitution. I respect the right of others to disagree with my view on Israel.”
Laying out his “personal and honestly held view” that Israel and its soldiers haven’t committed genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity, he said such a view was also held by people and democratic governments around the world, including those of the United States, United Kingdom, India, Australia, and many countries in the European Union. “Thus, my statements weren’t in support of genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity because in my view, Israel is innocent of all these allegations,” he argued.
Teeger also pointed out that he was a schoolboy with no media or public relations training. “I was given no orientation, guidance, nor was there any awareness created of the types of off-field comments relating to contentious socio-political issues that CSA or the Lions would consider damaging to their reputations or the game of cricket,” he said, pointing out that he would welcome such input.
In his determination, Trengove found that Teeger wasn’t guilty of contravening any of the clauses under question. These firstly related to “unbecoming or detrimental conduct”, which Trengove argued didn’t apply as the word “conduct” refers to action and not spoken words.
Regardless, Trengove argued that Teeger’s comments didn’t constitute unbecoming or detrimental conduct. “Mr Teeger expressed views which are very offensive to some. But they are also views shared by others. Even if they could be said to be those of a minority, they cannot be said to be ‘unbecoming or detrimental conduct’. There’s nothing unbecoming or detrimental about an opinion expressed seriously and in good faith, however offensive it might be to some.”
He also found Teeger innocent of making “statements detrimental to the game of cricket”. Emphasising that Teeger’s comments weren’t made on a cricketing platform but rather at a meeting of the Jewish community, Trengove pointed out that Teeger “was a young Jewish man speaking to his fellow Jews”. It was clear that he was speaking in his personal capacity within his own community and not on behalf of cricket or cricketers. “A minority opinion, sincerely held and honestly expressed on an issue of high public interest, but entirely unrelated to cricket, isn’t detrimental to the game of cricket in the eyes of those who respect Mr Teeger’s right to freedom of expression,” Trengove found.
He also argued that Teeger’s comments weren’t “detrimental to relations between the competing teams”, not least because they were made completely out of the context of any tournament or match. “He spoke to the Jewish community and not the members of other cricket teams,” Trengove stated. “He spoke of matters entirely unrelated to them. They might find his statements offensive because they fundamentally disagree with him. That’s entirely understandable. But it’s again an occasion on which the right to freedom of expression requires them to respect his right to express his opinion however offensive they might think it to be.”