The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, along with pro-Palestine and BDS activists, organized dozens of international actions worldwide last week to call for a boycott of the German sports goods manufacturer Puma because of its association with the Israeli Football Association (IFA).
Organizers in Germany, France, Portugal, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Egypt, Nigeria, Spain, Belgium, Hong Kong, Argentina, New Zealand, Jordan, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, and the United States organized protests, and demonstrated outside Puma stores in several cities. They distributed leaflets containing information about the ‘Boycott Puma’ campaign, and raised slogans such as “Boycott Puma! Boycott Apartheid!” Activists had put up information stands in many cities to distribute flyers and engage with the general public, to answer their questions and raise awareness about the reasons and objectives of the campaign.
In the UK, besides more than 30 protest actions all over the country, there were also grassroots “counter-advertisements” for the campaign which appeared in bus stations all over London.
Puma is currently sponsoring the IFA, which includes six teams from the illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Last year, Puma had signed a four-year sponsorship deal with the IFA, which meant providing equipment, including kits, to all of Israel’s national football teams.
The BDS movement said in a statement in April, “When companies like Puma sponsor and profit from illegal Israeli settlements, they give a nod to Israel’s far-right regime that its criminal land grabs and attacks on Palestinian sports can continue unabated.” It also mentioned Palestinian football players such as Mohammad Khalil and Mahmoud Sarsak, both of whom were forced to retire prematurely after losing their limbs as a result of injuries inflicted by Israeli gunfire.
The BDS movement also highlighted the bombing of Palestinian playgrounds and stadiums by the Israeli military in Gaza, the restrictions on practicing sports, particularly near the apartheid wall, as well as the construction of Israeli sports clubs and stadiums on stolen, occupied Palestinian land.
Before Puma, Adidas was the sponsor of the IFA and its affiliate teams for 10 years. Adidas ended its sponsorship following a similar BDS campaign in 2018. At the time, Adidas had said that “it supports and upholds human rights and that it had raised with FIFA the need for it to make a decision regarding the status of Israeli settlement teams”. All Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian lands are illegal and a war crime under international law, and this status automatically extends to teams originating from inside the settlements.
The boycott campaign is supported by over 200 Palestinian sports clubs and associations. Many Palestinian athletes have also lent their support to the campaign, including the captain of the men’s national football team, Abdullatef Buhdari, and Aya Khattab of the women’s national football team. Several international teams have also decided to participate, including the 14 Italian Rugby teams whose support was secured by BDS Roma.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has appealed to Puma to not contribute in normalizing the occupation and the apartheid by entering into a sponsorship deal with the IFA. Through its sponsorship, Puma is aiding Israel in using the global sport of football to improve and whitewash its international image when it uses Puma’s kits and equipment to participate in the European and international football tournaments. Puma also ends up raking in profits from Israel at the expense of the oppression of Palestinians.
Interestingly, Puma’s own code of conduct and its very vocal, publicly visible, supposed commitment to justice makes this very partnership with the IFA incompatible. In 2018, Puma launched its own social justice #Reform campaign and committed to “making sure that it is not complicit in human rights abuses”. The campaign was inspired by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their fists in the air at the 1968 Olympic games, protesting racism in the United States. Considering this, it would be the worst kind of doublespeak if Puma continues to sponsor and support the IFA and Israeli football teams, as well as shamelessly profit from it.