PRESS STATEMENT: #VirginActiveApologises
15 August 2015
Virgin Active has apologised for denying access to BDS South Africa’s Muhammed Desai. Desai was denied access by the company to Virgin Active’s Old Eds gym after complaints from Israeli-supporters who took offence to him wearing BDS Free Palestine - Boycott Israel tshirts at the gym.
The Virgin Active Managing Director Ross Faragher-Thomas in an email apology to Desai said: "We have [now] concluded that we made a regrettable decision and were wrong to advise you that you would be denied entry into the [Virgin Active Old Eds] club for wearing the particular [BDS] t-shirt, for which we apologise. You, and any other member, are entitled to wear any legal item of clothing to our clubs.”
This is a welcomed backtrack by the company. Virgin Active were initially dishonest in their claim that there was no denial of access based on Desai's BDS tshirt as well as suggestions that Desai was aggressive and forceful. We believe that it is better to receive a late apology than no apology or an apology forced through the courts.
This is a victory for freedom of expression but also a victory against the Israeli lobby and its supporters consistent pressuring and harassing of businesses, members of the public as well as media who voice or even just allow legitimate criticism of Israel. In this instance, pro-Israeli gym patrons initially pressured the company to ban the wearing of BDS t-shirts at Virgin Active clubs - pressure which the company had wrongly succumbed to.
There have been several similar attempts in the past. Last year, Continental Outdoor Media was forced through a court order to reverse its decision to remove BDS Palestine billboards which had initially been taken down following pressure and harassment from pro-Israeli organizations and supporters. The Israeli-lobby in South Africa also failed a few years back in a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority regarding a BDS radio advert on SABC's 5fm station.
Desai said after receiving the apology that: “This is not my victory nor that of BDS South Africa but of all those thousands of South Africans who took to social media and other platforms in anger against the blatant violation of basic constitutional rights."
BDS South Africa would like to thank the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) as well as other legal experts, lawyers and commentators who offered and extended guidance and assistance.
ISSUED BY KWARA KEKANA ON BEHALF OF BDS SOUTH AFRICA
BOYCOTT, DIVESTMENT AND SANCTIONS AGAINST ISRAEL IN SOUTH AFRICA (BDS SOUTH AFRICA)
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BDS South Africa is a registered Non-Profit Organization. NPO NUMBER: 084 306 NPO
BDS South Africa is a registered Public Benefit Organisation with Section 18A status. PBO NUMBER: 930 037 446