CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund has withdrawn its name from an annual golf tournament hosted by Gary Player because of concerns over the sports star’s involvement in Myanmar.
The charity said it did not want Mandela to be involved in an ongoing controversy over Player having designed a golf course in Myanmar that is used by the country’s military leaders. Mandela’s various foundations and charities are fiercely protective of the use of the name and image of the 89-year-old anti-apartheid hero.
“As a result of our withdrawal, the tournament can no longer be called the Nelson Mandela Invitational and should not be marketed as such in any form whatsoever,” the Fund said in a statement carried late Wednesday by the South African Press Association.
Event spokesman Duncan Cruickshank said Thursday that the tournament would still go ahead as planned at the end of this month at a golf complex just outside Cape Town and would likely be called the Children’s Charity Invitational.
“We are obviously disappointed that the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund has chosen to distance itself from the event but we respect their decision,” he said.
The golf tournament – a popular fixture on South Africa’s sporting calendar, featuring professionals, celebrities and businessmen – has raised 20 million rands (US$3 million; 2 million) for charity over the past seven years. This was traditionally evenly split between the Gary Player Foundation, which helps educate deprived children, and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.
The children’s fund said it would no longer accept money from Player, according to SAPA. Fund officials were in meetings and not immediately available for comment Thursday.
The controversy erupted in early October at the height of a brutal crackdown by Myanmar’s junta against peaceful protesters and Buddhist monks. Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu called for sanctions against the regime and criticized Player for building the Pun Hlaing golf course, urging Mandela to withdraw from the golf tournament.
At the time, Player issued a statement on his Web site saying that the golf course was designed during a political thaw in Myanmar in 2002, when opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had been released and there were hopes of greater democracy.
He went on condemn the wave of repression and said he backed Tutu’s call for sanctions.
However, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund was not convinced. It said it wanted to remain involved in the golf tournament but asked Player to stand down as guest of honor and host.
Cruickshank said this was not possible because the golf tournament was a joint venture between Player’s Black Knight International company and event management company Octagon. The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund was a beneficiary but did not own the event, he said.
Player, who turned 72 Thursday, is one of the game’s greatest players. He won 163 tournaments around the world, including the Masters in 1961, ’74 and ’78, the U.S. Open in ’65 and the British Open in ’59, ’68 and ’74.
All of his successes came during South Africa’s apartheid era and he was often criticized for supporting white racist rule.
Player’s company designs golf courses around the world and is also involved in real estate. He owns an internationally acclaimed stud farm in South Africa. Player is also heavily involved in charitable work.
The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund last year distributed 41 million rands (US$6 million; 4 million) to organizations promoting children’s development.