Virgin Active member going to SAHRC over T-shirt incident

Cape Town – A pro-Palestine activist who was allegedly kicked out of a Virgin Active gym in Johannesburg over a T-shirt he was wearing, will be taking the matter to the SA Human Rights Commission and the Equality Court, he told News24.

Muhammed Desai said he was thrown out of the gym's Old Eds branch on Wednesday night for wearing a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) T-shirt.  

The back of the T-shirt read: “From the coast of Cape Town to the coast of Gaza, in solidarity with Palestinians against Israeli apartheid”.

The front of the T-shirt shows a picture of the late Chris Hani and slogans for BDS and the Young Communist League of SA.

Desai told News24 he got a call from the branch’s manager before he went to the gym on Wednesday, asking that he no longer wear pro-Palestine T-shirts.

He reportedly then spoke to the regional manager, who said Desai would be removed and suspended from the gym for wearing “pro-Palestine” T-shirts.

Police called over T-shirt

Desai said he had been wearing T-shirts bearing slogans showing his political leanings to gym for years and this was the first he had heard about this rule.

He claimed gym members with pro-Israel sentiment told him they had been in consultation with the group’s “highest management” about his attire.

The incident has once again put Virgin Active at the centre of a social media storm. The chain hit the headlines last year for numerous alleged racial incidents.

Virgin Active’s policy on attire worn inside its gym is that members “ensure that your choice of clothing doesn’t make other members feel uncomfortable”.

“Our goal at Virgin Active is for our health clubs to be neutral spaces in which members can pursue their health and wellness goals while, at the same time, accommodating the rights and freedoms of all members,” said the club’s communications head Les Auspiais in a statement.

The company also said earlier on Twitter that it was “aware of the serious situation” at the branch and “are investigating and will you keep you updated”.

By Thursday morning, Virgin was top trending in South Africa on Twitter.

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