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UPDATED: A t-shirt gets you kicked out of a Virgin Active?

Muhammed Desai, the national co-ordinator of the South African chapter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions lobby against Israel, was forcibly removed from the Old Eds branch of Virgin Active in northern Johannesburg on Wednesday evening. Desai’s t-shirt was reportedly deemed politically inflammatory. The t-shirt, from the Young Communist League’s “4th National Congress” at the University of Western Cape last year reads, “From the coast of Cape Town to the coast of Gaza in solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli Apartheid”.

Desai says he was told ahead of his visit to the club on Wednesday evening that he would not be allowed to wear “BDS” t-shirts.

“I often wear my Youth League or BDS t-shirts when I go to the gym, but yesterday I got a call from the branch manager saying that in the interest of my own safety, I shouldn’t wear these t-shirts when I come to the gym,” he said.

After insisting that he is able to take care of his own safety, he says he received a call from a regional manager. “Mr Jason Gripper said that if I tried to enter a Virgin Active club in the country (while) wearing a BDS t-shirt, that I will be removed and will be denied access from the gym.”

Desai says Virgin Active refused to send him these instructions in writing, and he then proceeded to the gym that evening.

“When I got there, the on-duty manager said that my membership is going to be suspended, that I’m not going to be allowed to come in here wearing a BDS t-shirt as this is something that many Israeli supporters who frequent the gym have been complaining about.”

At this point, Desai says, another gym member, a man who has now been identified as Howard Hersh, said that aggrieved gym members “had been guaranteed by the highest levels of the company that BDS t-shirts won’t be allowed to be worn in the gym”.

According to a statement released by Virgin Active on Thursday, “The T-shirt worn by Mr Desai generated strong complaints from fellow members at the Old Eds club and he was politely requested by management not to wear it in future.”

“He aggressively declined this request and said he would force entry if he was refused. When he appeared at the club, clearly intent on making a political statement and generating confrontation, management were genuinely concerned about the potential consequences and called on the police to intervene.”

Virgin Active insists that “no legal item of clothing is banned from its clubs”.

 

Of course, Twitter and Facebook erupted.

______________________________________________________________________________________ Related: BDS-SA packs a punch with Pharell Woolies spoof ______________________________________________________________________________________

-With additional reporting by Firdaus Khan.

28 Comments
  1. […] A member of the SA chapter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions lobby against Israel was reportedly kicked out of the Old Eds branch of Virgin Active yesterday for wearing a pro-Palestine t-shirt – The Daily Vox […]

  2. Ian Glenn says

    Well, if a T-shirt angers other gym members, surely a private club can reasonably ask a member not to wear it. Imagine (a) a T-shirt with a Prophet Mohamed cartoon; (b) a T-shirt with a homophobic or misogynistic slogan; (c) A T-shirt with profanities on it. These may all be protected by free speech idealists, but a gym would be very silly to let things get ugly on the floor by ignoring the feelings of other members who come to exercise, not to have their sensibilities and political or religious feelings affronted.

    Once one concedes that free speech rights, as Stanley Fish and others have pointed out, are always contextual and conditional, it becomes clear that the gym is in a tricky position. Besides, did Desai come to train or to look for a confrontation, a la Woolworths?

    1. James Furner says

      “Well, if a T-shirt angers other gym members, surely a private club can reasonably ask a member not to wear it.” – No. What you may have meant to say is that: “if it is _reasonable for other gym members_ to be angered by a T-shirt, surely a private club can ask a member not to wear it”. Your examples are all examples of what would reasonably anger other gym members, going by the values of the current constitution. But other gym members could get angered by a t-shirt with the face of Zuma on it. If they did, that would not be reasonable anger – not because of what people at the gym think of Zuma’s politics and even if Zuma’s politics are bad politics – but because his politics have not been deemed unconstitutional. Anger of gym members as such is, thus, irrelevant. What needs to be proved is the reasonableness of the anger of the gym members. But, like a t-shirt with Zuma’s face on it, a BDS t-shirt is not a cause of reasonable anger – BDS has the support, directly or indirectly, of some institutions of civil society and public figures (some NGOs, locally UJ, Tutu), and is a campaign that operates within the current constitution. So whether the majority of a gym’s members agree with BDS or not, a BDS t-shirt is not a reasonable cause for them to get angry. There are no reasonable grounds to remove people with BDS t-shirts from gyms.

    2. Dan says

      Maybe the other members should grow up.

    3. Joe Public says

      Your argument doesn’t make any sense. You list things classified as hate speech. BDS is a non-violent, peaceful movement – they have never incited violence, racism, homophobia or religious intolerence. They champion human rights.

    4. Zahra says

      Please read this http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/08/14/Virgin-Active-admits-it-was-wrong-over-T-shirt-row
      I think it clarifies that it’s not inappropriate to wear t-shirts as such. Please don’t be so close minded and one-sided. Get educated about issues before making inappropriate comment

  3. Chris Durand says

    I must agree with Ian Glenn, all to often our rights as citizens of this diverse country are placed well above our obligations. Both should be equally respected.

    1. Dayana says

      But a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw great style and design. “Make the most of your re2g&tse#8r30; . To regret deeply is to live afresh.” by Henry David Thoreau.

  4. James Furner says

    “Well, if a T-shirt angers other gym members, surely a private club can reasonably ask a member not to wear it.” – No. What you may have meant to say is that: “if it is _reasonable for other gym members_ to be angered by a T-shirt, surely a private club can ask a member not to wear it”. Your examples are all examples of what would reasonably anger other gym members, going by the values of the current constitution. But other gym members could get angered by a t-shirt with the face of Zuma on it. If they did, that would not be reasonable anger – not because of what people at the gym think of Zuma’s politics and even if Zuma’s politics are bad politics – but because his politics have not been deemed unconstitutional. Anger of gym members as such is, thus, irrelevant. What needs to be proved is the reasonableness of the anger of the gym members. But, like a t-shirt with Zuma’s face on it, a BDS t-shirt is not a cause of reasonable anger – BDS has the support, directly or indirectly, of some institutions of civil society and public figures (some NGOs, locally UJ, Tutu), and is a campaign that operates within the current constitution. So whether the majority of a gym’s members agree with BDS or not, a BDS t-shirt is not a reasonable cause for them to get angry. There are no reasonable grounds to remove people with BDS t-shirts from gyms.

    1. Zahra says

      Thank you! Good to see some are educated on the topic

  5. Nathan says

    Next time I got to Virgin Active, I will wear a T-shirt that states, All Muslims are terrorists. Then I will understand I should be kicked off as I would offend people, similarly equating Israel to apartheid will also offend people.

    All Muslims are terrorists and equating Israel to apartheid is the same difference which is a false statement and will offend people.

    Well done to Virgin Active for taking the correct steps.

    1. Clive Barneby says

      Actually you cannot say saying all Muslims are terrorists is the same as saying that Israel has implemented apartheid. The reason is because all Muslims are not terrorists, the fact over 1 billion Muslims live in peace in various societies proves that. Israel is an apartheid state and it is very clear what has been done to Palestinians. If you said all Jews are in support of this and are terrorists (or whatever word fits this) then that would be as inaccurate as saying that all Muslims are terrorists. If you read up on what is available on the state of Israel it is very clear that they are an apartheid state. The issue of the t-shirt is interesting because had there been someone with a t-shirt with a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and a Muslim patron complained I am pretty sure that no one would have batted an eyelid and the person in question would not have been asked to remove the t-shirt or himself, because only Muslims seem to be the ones who need to practice tolerance but others have the right to free speech.

      1. Nathan says

        So Muslims and Palestinians that live in Israel that have voting rights, serve in the court systems (a Muslim Palestinian had sentence the former Israeli president), that own land, enter beauty pageants, practice as attorneys and doctors, etc is called Apartheid???? Really… I wonder what propaganda you are reading which is very distorted.

        Sounds like you insulting the black people that suffered under apartheid in South Africa as they never had these rights.

        Maybe that’s why the BDS went mad when a few student delegates went to Israel on a fact finding mission as BDS were scared they would see the truth on the ground. It’s even alleged that BDS offered each student R40K not to go – the desperate measure of BDS.

      2. john vallmont says
        1. Ghameeda Jacobs says

          So you choose to believe 1 psycho so called muslim over billions of decent muslim people who would all say this is completely against what the quran says and he’s sick balls brains is making him see shit and interperate shit the way he wants it to be interpreted. I will pray for some sense in your brain

    2. Moosa says

      Nathan, why don’t we settle this like men? Let’s see how terrorists you can name in one minute

      1. Nathan says

        and your point is?

    3. Zahra says

      Oh Nathan. Your comments makes it appear that you’re so well researched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
      Please go read up and get facts. You’re obviously biased and can’t see further than your nose.
      Wake up and smell the coffee! You’re obviously have been exposed to more propaganda than you’re aware of.
      Wow so absolutely ignorant

      1. Nathan says

        I am actually well educated but please use intellilecual facts when responding as opposed to emotions.

  6. Pumps poor custard says

    Shampies my heart pumps poor custard for BCD and Mr Desai. You went back again with your shirt its not a public area ROAR is applied now start listening to other peoples views just like you want people to listen to your Propaganda regarding Isarael, VIRGIN said dont wear the shirt you said stuff them.
    Right Of Admission Reserved

    1. john vallmont says

      Amen. Wear your shirt on the street or in the mosque. But not where civilized people just want to peacefully without.

    2. Zahra says

      Virgin also apologized smarty pants 😉
      Don’t speak too soon
      You’re embarrassed yourself quite nicely there

      http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2015/08/14/Virgin-Active-admits-it-was-wrong-over-T-shirt-row

  7. Shazza says

    So if a bunch of human rights activists complained about gym members wearing Nike garb that is manufactured in Chinese/Bangladeshi sweatshops then by your argument they should also forcibly remove all people wearing Nike gear – it upsets people who care about the lives of other people.

    1. john vallmont says

      It enough actual gym members felt that Nike was offensive it would be considered I suppose. But this person just wanted to be inflamatory. Try to understand: in private spaces your freedom of speech is limited. A gym is not the street. I’m sure you have been to restaurants or clubs where people need to abide by a dress code. Their freedom of expression is not considered. Ditto places of work. I’m sure you don’t let men wear minidkirts and heels in your mosque…right?

      1. Ghameeda Jacobs says

        You are free to wear whatever you like. as a muslim we and all of mankind will have to answer for what you did intentionally to hurt the next person SO in saying that.. The Islamic thing to do if someone wore a tshirt with the prophet (peace be upon him) face on it.. would be to confront the person and if they refuse then you walk away because you did your duty. All this violent reactions are from people’s egos.

  8. […] Yusuf Omar ditangkap konsekuensi dari kecelakaan di video , dan segera, tren Aktif Virgin di jaringan sosial di Afrika Selatan. Virgin Active rantai […]

  9. […] the interest of my own safety, I shouldn’t wear these t-shirts when I come to the gym,” Desai told the Daily […]

  10. […] a Young Communist League t-shirt that featured an image of Chris Hani and a BDS message. Desai was reported defending the wearing of his shirt by saying he is a paying member of the […]

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