Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (file pic). Alamy Stock Photo
getting shirty

Uproar at Nike's new England football kit

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has weighed into the argument.

Updated at 14.02

BRITISH PRIME Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday waded into a row over a new England football shirt sold by Nike that changes the colours of the St George’s Cross, saying “we shouldn’t mess” with national flags.

The US sportswear firm revealed it had altered the cross, the flag of England, using purple and blue horizontal stripes in what it called a “playful update” ahead of Euro 2024, which starts in June.

Nike said the colours on the back of the collar — different from the traditional red cross — were inspired by the training kit worn by England’s 1966 World Cup winners.

But the decision has led to a furious backlash from some fans and former players, with leading politicians adding their voices.

Sunak — a fan of Championship side Southampton — said he “prefers the original” England shirt.

“My general view is that when it comes to our national flags, we shouldn’t mess with them,” he told reporters. “Because they are a source of pride, identity, who we are, and they’re perfect as they are.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, whose remit includes sport, said the Football Association and its kit partner had failed to put supporters first.

“Fans should always come first, and it’s clear that this is not what fans want,” she said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Our national heritage –- including St George’s Cross -– brings us together. Toying with it is pointless and unnecessary.”

- ‘Unifier’ -

Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour party and an Arsenal supporter, called on Nike to “reconsider” its decision to modify the St George’s Cross.

“I’m a big football fan, I go to England games, men and women’s games, and the flag is used by everybody. It is a unifier. It doesn’t need to be changed. We just need to be proud of it,” Starmer told The Sun newspaper.

“So, I think they should just reconsider this and change it back. I’m not even sure they can properly explain why they thought they needed to change it in the first place.”

The debate over the new design comes with British politics in the grip of so-called “culture war” issues, pitting proponents of “traditionalist” values such as Sunak’s ruling Conservatives against those with more liberal, “progressive” views.

Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who is England’s most-capped player, told the BBC that he does not agree with the changes, describing himself as a “traditionalist”.

“We have so many changes to kits these days so it really makes fans buy fresh kits to stay up to date and it is very expensive,” he told the BBC. “It is a colour difference and I think it is significant.

“Once you start changing colours there is no end to it. There is no need to change the colour of the flag.”

A Nike spokesman previously told media outlets: “The England 2024 home kit disrupts history with a modern take on a classic.

“The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple. The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag of St George on the back of the collar.”

Meanwhile, the German national football team’s decision to drop Adidas as its kit supplier sparked dismay in Berlin on Friday, with the economy minister blasting the switch to US sportswear giant Nike as a lack of “patriotism”.

“I can hardly imagine the Germany shirt without the three stripes,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement sent to AFP.

“For me, Adidas and black-red-gold always belonged together,” Habeck said, describing the pairing of the company’s trademark stripe and the national flag colours as a “piece of German identity”.

With the homegrown sportswear brand and the economy both experiencing tough times, Habeck said he “would have hoped for more patriotism” from the German Football Association (DFB).

The DFB on Thursday said it would end its decades-long partnership with Adidas, selecting Nike as its new supplier from 2027.

The collaboration between Adidas and the national team goes all the way back to the 1950s and Germany’s first World Cup success in 1954.

The switch from Adidas was the “wrong decision”, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said Thursday on X, formerly Twitter.

The move saw “commerce destroy a tradition and a piece of home”, Lauterbach said.

The shock announcement came just a few months before Germany is set to host the men’s European football championships in June.

- ‘Emotional’ -

“The national team plays in three stripes — that is as clear as the ball is round and the game lasts 90 minutes”, Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder said on X.

The German FA said Thursday it understood the decision to drop Adidas was “emotional”.

“For us as an association, it is also a turning point when it is clear that a partnership marked by special moments is coming to an end after more than 70 years,” the DFB said on X.

The deal with Nike, which will run through 2034, was “by far the best financial offer” on the table, the DFB said.

According to the Handelsblatt financial daily, the contract with the US company was worth around €100 million a year — twice as much as the reported value of the Adidas deal.

The money would enable the association to fulfil its commitment to “German football and its development”, the DFB said.

The new partnership would provide more support for the women’s game and grassroots sport, Nike Europe told AFP’s sports news subsidiary SID.

- ‘Global heroes’ -

The DFB on Thursday announced another partnership with the social media app TikTok starting with this summer’s home tournament.

TikTok, which faces growing regulatory pressure in the United States for its Chinese ownership, was a “dynamic and globally growing platform”, DFB CEO Holger Blask said in a statement.

The partnership would help “showcase” the 2024 championships and “strengthen the presence” of the national team online, Blask said.

The loss of the German national team contract is a bitter blow for Adidas, which recorded its first loss in 30 years in 2023.

Another messy break-up with the US artist Kanye West, who once spurned Nike for the German group, has weighed on Adidas’s activities.

The DFB tie-up is a coup for Nike, which signalled an otherwise tepid short-term outlook on Thursday.

The US group could make the German team “a global brand and make their athletes global heroes”, Nike CEO John Donahoe said.

– © AFP 2024

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel