January 12, 2024 - 6:45pm

Sport always has a political dimension, and nowhere is it starker than South Africa. One of the great symbols of post-apartheid reconciliation (so sentimentalised that a film got made about it) was the 1995 Rugby World Cup, in which the white South African captain, François Pienaar, received the trophy from President Nelson Mandela. The processes which the 1990s set in motion — of reconciliation, and return to the international fold — were capped off in 2010, when South Africa played host to the FIFA World Cup. 

But the role of sport in South African history has not always been inspirational or positive, which is of course what makes those two moments so poignant. The boycott of apartheid South Africa, sparked in Britain in large part by the D’Oliveira Affair of 1968-9, played out on the cricket fields.

And once again South Africa’s cricketing controversies have made the news. Today Cricket South Africa announced that they were demoting David Teeger from the captaincy of their Under-19 Team. Teeger, who is Jewish, attracted negative attention by making comments in support of the IDF a few weeks after the Hamas terror attack of 7 October. Yet Cricket South Africa itself concluded, after investigating the matter, that Teeger did not cross any lines in expressing his support for Israel. They are dropping him — as their statement makes clear — not because he had committed any wrongdoing, or even because his talent or sportsmanship weren’t up to the task, but rather to prevent “conflict” and “violence” from protestors. 

This capitulation to the mob is an unedifying sight, especially once placed within its broader context. Cricket South Africa announced their decision to drop Teeger on the second day of proceedings in South Africa v. Israel at the International Court of Justice. Israel, and some South African Jews, claim that South Africa bears a vendetta against Israel rooted in antisemitism; in response, South Africa presents itself as a moral beacon, a champion of the oppressed. That was already eyebrow-raising for all those familiar with South Africa’s role in Putin’s war against Ukraine. But now, with South Africa’s cricketing authorities seemingly discriminating against a Jewish player, the image that South Africa is trying to sell to the world has become even harder to swallow. 

Cricket South Africa already has a history of determining sporting matters on the basis of racial politics. Kevin Pietersen felt he had to leave South Africa for England because of a quota system limiting the number of white players; their loss was our gain. The treatment of Teeger might therefore be par for the course. Still, the decision to remove him as captain is craven and discriminatory. It is grist to the mill of all those who think that South Africa’s case against Israel is being made in bad faith. It is an insult to South Africa’s substantial Jewish community, which is rightly proud of its prominent role in the struggle against apartheid. And it is above all an insult to the game of cricket, whose name across the world is synonymous with fairness.

Samuel Rubinstein is a History student at Trinity College, Cambridge.