As Palestinian footballers suffer, Adidas sponsors teams in illegal settlements

Issue 
A Palestinian boy shows a red card to an Israeli occupation soldier during a protest against settlement clubs in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh in 2015.

Radical US sports writer Dave Zirin asks why a major multinational corporation is sponsoring football (soccer) teams in illegal Israeli settlements.

“Palestinian footballers are routinely forced to endure Israeli military raids and tear gas on our fields, denied by Israel our right to travel to matches, and have seen our teammates killed and our stadiums bombed. I was jailed by the Israeli occupation for three years without charge or trial and released only after a 96-day hunger strike and worldwide outcry...

“All the while, the IFA [Israel Football Association] holds matches in illegal Israeli settlements, which rob us of our land, water, resources and livelihoods. Adidas’ sponsorship of the IFA prominently places its iconic logo on Israel’s abuses of our rights.”

These are the words of former Palestinian national team player Mahmoud Sarsak, whose jailing by Israel in 2009 and subsequent hunger strike in 2012 launched an international solidarity campaign that eventually won his freedom.

Along with 130 Palestinian sports clubs, Sarsak added his name to an open letter to Adidas, urging it to cease its sponsorship of the IFA over its acceptance of teams that form in illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.

The IFA encourages the creation of even more teams in the illegal settlements, despite the condemnation of these actions by the United Nations. This is using the “beautiful game” as a tool of ethnic cleansing and displacement of communities.

The IFA is able to do this in part because it is backed financially by Adidas, a global corporation, with a brand value — according to Forbes — of US$6.8 billion.

In an open letter to Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted, the 130 Palestinian sports clubs accused Adidas of whitewashing human rights abuses and openly flouting UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which “denounces Israeli settlements as flagrant violations of international law”.

The letter threatens an international boycott campaign against Adidas if it does not cease its support for the IFA for as long as the IFA continues to organise teams among the settlements. Signatories to the letter include the storied Jenin Athletic Club, which, founded in 1940, is the oldest Palestinian sports group in the West Bank, predating the founding of the state of Israel by eight years.

The question is whether a boycott campaign could provoke some of Adidas’s athletes to say or do something about the settlements. International football has long been a place where players have spoken out for Palestinian rights, and Adidas is also the sponsor of dozens of some of the most famous soccer players on Earth, including Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Argentine great Lionel Messi.

An international campaign could also ricochet into US sport as well. NFL players who are human billboards for Adidas include Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott. NBA players sponsored by Adidas include James Harden and Derrick Rose.

Rose in particular has been outspoken in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement, being the first player to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt after the police killing of Eric Garner in 2014. Will Rose become another athlete to see the connections between the Black Lives Matter struggle and the suppression of Palestinian rights, as activists across the world continue to make connections between these two struggles?

Adidas and the IFA have been put on notice: Sport will not be used as a tool of displacement or ethnic cleansing without confrontation and conflict. This story won’t remain on the athletic field, and the more attention it receives, the more Adidas will feel compelled to respond.

[Abridged from Dave Zirin's website Edge of Sports.]

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