Boycott PUMA – pass the word

18 Sep

Sign the Justice for Palestine (formerly Wellington Palestine)  petition to the Silver Ferns calling on them to drop their Puma sponsorship.

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Calls for Silver Ferns to drop partnership with Puma

By Aubrey Bloomfield, 1/200, 18 September 2012

The sporting aspect of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement – which aims to hold Israel to account for its violations of international law and Palestinian human rights – does not often reach Aotearoa. We do not have the same sporting connections with Israel that we did with South Africa. South Africa was our closest rival in our national sport, rugby, and the apartheid regime was clearly on display to the public in the racial discrimination at the heart of selection policies for both the Springbok and All Blacks teams. 

This close sporting connection and the visibility of apartheid spurred New Zealanders to stand in solidarity with South Africans forty years ago during the protests against the 1981 Springbok Tour. In doing so, Aotearoa helped to bring an end to South Africa’s 46-year-long apartheid regime. 

Israel’s apartheid regime is already at 72 years and counting. Today, despite the lack of sporting contact between Aotearoa and Israel, the sporting community in Aotearoa is being called upon to stand up for Palestinian human rights.

Saturday 18 September is the fifth international day of action by the BDS movement calling for a boycott of the global sportswear company Puma over its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association (IFA). As part of this, human rights groups in Aotearoa, led by Justice for Palestine, are calling on the Silver Ferns and Netball New Zealand to drop their partnership with Puma until the company stops its sponsorship of the IFA.

At issue is the fact that the IFA includes six football teams based in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The presence of the teams is not only a violation of international law, which prohibits the occupying power from transferring its civilians to the occupied territory and displacing the local population, but also a violation of the statutes of football’s global governing body FIFA.

Under FIFA’s rules, a national association can only operate clubs in the territory of another national association with its consent, something that the Palestine Football Association (PFA) has not granted to the IFA. Despite campaigns by the PFA and the BDS movement (albeit not in coordination) to either have the teams relocated or Israel suspended from FIFA, in 2017 FIFA decided to ignore international law and its own rules by taking no action. The result is that the teams remain based on illegally occupied Palestinian land with the tacit support of FIFA.

In 2018 Puma signed a four-year sponsorship deal with the IFA to provide equipment, including kits, for all of Israel’s national football teams. In doing so they replaced Adidas, which had been the sponsor for 10 years until the company ended its relationship with the IFA amid a similar BDS campaign.

Puma expresses a commitment to respect for human rights in its own code of conduct. As a signatory of the United Nations Global Compact Puma has committed to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” As part of its social justice #REFORM campaign, Puma also says it does “not tolerate racism, bigotry, or police brutality,” and talks up its partnership with athletes and ambassadors “who have raised their voices to support universal equality.” Yet Puma has remained conspicuously silent on the issue of Palestinian equality and Israel’s racism and human rights abuses.

Through its agreement with the IFA, Puma is not only helping to normalise Israel’s apartheid by doing business with it, but is also profiting from it. More broadly, by sponsoring Israel’s national football teams, Puma is helping Israel harness the power of football’s global popularity and broad cultural appeal “to use participation in European and international competitions as a means to launder its international image and present itself as a normal country.” 

Since Puma signed its deal with the IFA, pressure has been mounting on the company. Over 200 Palestinian sports clubs and associations, as well as Palestinian athletes, have called for a boycott of Puma until it ends its sponsorship of the IFA. In solidarity, a growing number of sports clubs around the world have also pledged not to sign or renew sponsorship deals with Puma.

The BDS movement seeks to raise the costs of the status quo for Israel in the same way that the anti-apartheid movement did for the South African regime. The sports boycott of South Africa is considered to have been one of the most significant aspects of the international anti-apartheid movement, having a powerful psychological and reputational impact on the ruling regime.

While the sports boycott was part of the campaign against apartheid South Africa from the beginning, it is only in the past decade that it has become a growing aspect of the BDS movement. Despite this, the mass appeal and cultural influence of sport provides a unique means to force people to confront and question Israel’s policies, educating them about the reality of life for Palestinians under apartheid. Given that so many people around the world watch, support, and participate in a wide variety of sports there exists a large captive audience for efforts to draw attention to Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, and to mobilise support for the BDS movement.

The Silver Ferns and Netball New Zealand are not playing sport with apartheid as the All Blacks and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union once did. Nevertheless, they have an opportunity to take a stand on the right side of history by ending their partnership with Puma. In doing so they can help to show the costs of doing business with apartheid, and force fans and the wider public in Aotearoa to reckon with this crime against humanity once again.

Aubrey Bloomfield is a freelance writer whose work focuses on the intersection of sport and politics.

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