Today's Big Stories

Virgin Active MD 'evasive' about t-shirt incident

Last night, Virgin Active’s executive management met with Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) co-ordinator and Palestine activist, Muhammed Desai after he was removed from the Old Eds branch in Houghton, after other members complained that they were offended by his political t-shirt.

Virgin Active MD, Ross Faragher-Thomas told John Robbie this morning that the gym and activist, Muhammed Desai agreed to disagree about the nature of the incident. Desai insists that he was thrown out of the gym on Wednesday night, while Virgin Active says they 'didn’t ban or evict him', that were protecting their other members and staff from a potentially violent situation (by removing Desai).

Faragher-Thomas does however say that Desai can come back and train with that same t-shirt on. As well as that him (and other patrons) are free to wear whatever t-shirts they choose, as long as they respect other members.

Listeners on Twitter feel that the MD of Virgin Active was evasive about questions on the incident, sounding more like a politician than a business manager.

Meanwhile, it is reported that Desai is still taking the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission and the Equality Court, despite being granted permission to carry on wearing his political t-shirts to gym.

Yesterday on the Midday Report with Stephen Grootes, we heard from Professor Jane Duncan of the Freedom of Expression institute that Virgin Active indeed violated Desai's constitutional right to Freedom of Expression by refusing him entry in the gym because of his t-shirt. Professor Duncan said that, in order for Virgin Active to be within their rights to to ban certain t-shirts, it would need to prove that the speech constitutes advocacy of hatred (on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or religion) or incitement to cause harm.

If we are going to be serious about maintaining constitutional values, we can't expect a private entity, like Virgin Active, to require people to leave constitutional values at the front door. They seem to think that, as a private entity, they can contract themselves out of the right to freedom of expression and unfortunately they can't.

Professor Jane Duncan, Freedom of Expression Institute

(Also see related article of Redi's interview with complaining member of the Old Eds gym)

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