Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 19 News List

Mandela leaves Player out in the cold

HUMAN RIGHTS The former South African president appears to have reacted to pressure after it was said that the former golfer is in cahoots with Myanmar's junta

THE GUARDIAN , JOHANNESBURG

International team captain Gary Player and his wife Vivienne watch Presidents Cup play at the Royal Montreal Golf Club in Montreal, Canada, on Sept. 30.

PHOTO: EPA

Nelson Mandela has withdrawn an invitation to Gary Player, the former Open champion golfer, to host a charity fundraising tournament in the name of the former South African president because of his business ties to Myanmar.

The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund said it was "not fully aware of the extent and nature" of Player's involvement in Myanmar when it made the invitation, "nor of the political impact of this involvement." It took note of the "international campaign in support of greater freedom in that country."

The move followed a call by Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, for a boycott of Player's company because the South African designed a golf course that is "a playground of the ruling junta in the murderous dictatorship of Burma."

Player said he was "very disappointed" that his "integrity and support for human rights has been brought into question" over Myanmar and that his company's involvement in the country was "taken entirely out of context" because it began five years ago when the military regime appeared to be relaxing its grip on power.

Player and his company have designed hundreds of golf courses around the world including the 18-hole Pride of Myanmar frequented by the country's military rulers.

The former archbishop backed a call by his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for an international boycott of foreign companies doing business in Myanmar.

Tutu, patron of the Free Burma Campaign in South Africa, also drew attention to a column in the Guardian by George Monbiot which called for a boycott of Player's company.

"Madiba [Mandela] could consider it [Monbiot's call] and listen to what is being said," Tutu said.

Mandela's spokeswoman, Zelda la Grange, initially rejected Tutu's plea, saying the former president "is not going to follow a line simply because it's taken by other Nobel peace prize laureates."

"Nelson Mandela is a humanitarian and will always oppose any human rights violations [but] is it necessary for him to stand up every time they happen and make a statement, at 89?" she said.

La Grange added that if Mandela were to take a public position it could compromise efforts by South Africa's foreign ministry over Myanmar. South Africa has been widely condemned for failing to back UN security council motions criticizing the junta's human rights violations.

But under growing criticism, the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund said Player's participation threatened to undermine the charity tournament.

"Player shares with us a desire to protect Mandela's good name and ensure that nothing be allowed to detract from the potential success of a prestigious event aimed at improving the lives of children in South Africa," it said in a statement.

Player said that his company's involvement with the design of the golf course occurred in 2002 when "the world's relations towards the regime in Burma had thawed; Aung San Suu Kyi had been released from house arrest and it seemed as though real political change was in the air."

"Let me make it abundantly clear that I decry, in the strongest possible terms, the recent events in Burma and wholeheartedly support Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu in his efforts to bring peace and transition to that country," he said.

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