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So. Africa: Virgin Active apologises to member denied access to health club for refusing to remove pro-Palestine t-shirt

Muhammed Desai, 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 after he refused to remove a pro-Palestine t-shirt. Virgin Active has since apologised to Desai for this incident. Related media items and the Virgin Active statement are provided below.

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14 August 2015

So. Africa: Health Club evicts member for refusing to remove pro-Palestine t-shirt

Author: Daily Vox (So. Africa)

'A t-shirt gets you kicked out of a Virgin Active?', 14 Aug 2015: Muhammed Desai…co-ordinator of the South African chapter of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions lobby against Israel, was forcibly removed from…[a] branch of Virgin Active…Desai’s t-shirt was reportedly deemed politically inflammatory. The t-shirt…reads, “From the coast of Cape Town to the coast of Gaza in solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli Apartheid”. Desai says...he received a call from a regional manager. “Mr Jason Gripper said…if I tried to enter a Virgin Active club in the country (while) wearing a BDS t-shirt…I will be removed and…denied access...” Desai says Virgin Active refused to send…these instructions in writing, and he then proceeded to the gym…According to…Virgin Active…“The T-shirt…generated strong complaints from fellow members…and he was politely requested by management not to wear it...” “… When he appeared at the club…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”...

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14 August 2015

So. Africa: Virgin Active statement

Author: Virgin Active

'Updated media statement re: Old Eds incident', 14 Aug 2015: We have taken the highly publicised events at Old Eds Virgin Active health club…extremely seriously. We have…investigated the decisions we took, and the reasons behind them, which ultimately led to a member, Mr Desai, being informed that he could not enter the gym wearing a particular T-shirt…[W]e took…decisions in a very difficult, complex, fast evolving and volatile situation…with the best intent in terms of balancing the well-being of all our club members with the critical value of freedom of speech. We ultimately conclude that the decision…on balance, was wrong. [Mr Desai]…is entitled to wear that T-shirt, and any other legal item of clothing, at our health clubs. We regret the incident and have learnt a lot from it. We are reviewing our procedures…to find more appropriate ways to manage…tensions which might arise…We apologise to Mr. Desai for denying him entry to the health club on these grounds.

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