Palestinian activists, organized by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBL), protested and boycotted German athletics company Puma the weekend of June 15. They targeted stores in 15 different countries as a way of spreading information about the boycott. As of last year, Puma began sponsoring the Israeli Football Association (IFA). The IFA hosts games in Israeli settlements held on traditional Palestinian land. This is in violation of both international law and FIFA (football’s governing body) rules. The protesters feel that Puma is profiting off this situation, as well as normalizing it for the rest of the world.
Six teams play in this section of the West Bank. In 2018, Puma began sponsoring the IFA as part of a 4-year deal to provide equipment, including kits, for Israel’s national football teams. Adidas had been the IFA’s sponsor for the last 10 years, until they ended their sponsorship over a similar boycott campaign in July 2018.
In December 2016, the UN Security Council reaffirmed the position that Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories are a violation of international law. In 1961, FIFA suspended apartheid-laden South Africa, but has said little about Israel and Palestine’s current problem. The Palestinian Football Association (PFA) called for a vote on Israel’s FIFA membership in 2014 and 2015, but ultimately backed down both times. In June 2019, FIFA’s Ethics Committee launched an investigation in PFA President Jibril Rajoub regarding statements and actions against Israel.
PACBL appealed to both Puma and Adidas on the basis of social justice. Puma launched a social justice campaign called #REFORM last year, inspired by American sprinter Tommie Smith, who raised his fist at the 1968 Olympic games in protest of racism. However, according to the Palestinian protesters, this hypocrisy in regards to justice shows that money is still the ultimate factor with sports sponsorships. There is always an element of calculation as to how beneficial the social justice commitment will be.
Ultimately, Puma’s decision—regardless of the protests—will come down to reputation. Meanwhile, the protests and boycott against Puma are supported by over 200 Palestinian sports associations and clubs, as well as prominent Palestinian athletes such as Aya Khattab, who is on the women’s national football team.
Mahmoud Sarsk, a Palestinian footballer who used to play on the national team, said, “Endless restrictions on freedom of movement, access to resources and fundamental civil liberties make engaging in sport a constant struggle for Palestinians—these violations of rights are totally incompatible with the principle of sport being accessible to all,” according to Aljazeera. Sarsk was imprisoned for three years by Israeli authorities without charges or a trial. This ended his career as a professional player.
In a statement last year, Adidas said they ended their sponsorship of the IFA for political reasons, as they upheld human rights and agreed with FIFA that a decision needed to be made regarding the state of the settlements. The protest included complaints from over 130 Palestinian football clubs, according to the Palestine Chronicle. Regardless, it was claimed afterwards that Adidas ended the sponsorship for non-political reasons, particularly since the sponsorship term was ending
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BCD) is a Palestinian-led organization with a larger sports component, which is what the Puma boycott is part of. The sports component has been steadily growing since 2011.
The international response has also been growing. According to Mondoweiss, in February 2017 six NFL players withdrew from a PR trip to Israel, which serves as a prominent win for the BDS movement. Argentina also called off a friendly match with an Israeli team in Jerusalem last June.
FIFA’s response has been lacking, but the international disdain has made it clear that Israel may soon start to run out of sponsors for its sports teams if something is not done about the settlements held on Palestinian land that violate International Law.
NOEMI ARELLANO-SUMMER is a journalist and writer living in Boston, MA. She is a voracious reader and has a fondness for history and art. She is currently at work on her first novel and wants to eventually take a trip across Europe.