Adidas may face boycott calls if it doesn’t end its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association over the inclusion of teams based in settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The German sportswear giant received the warning in a letter this week signed by 130 Palestinian football clubs and sports associations.
The letter cautions Adidas CEO Kasper Rørsted that as the main international sponsor of the Israel Football Association (IFA), “Adidas is lending its brand to cover up and whitewash Israel’s human rights abuses” and give “international cover to Israel’s illegal settlements.”
Adidas is one of the top sponsors of teams in European leagues, including Arsenal, Real Madrid and Juventus.
In other regions Adidas also seeks to raise its profile by backing top clubs. For example in South Africa, Adidas sponsors the Orlando Pirates and Ajax Cape Town, both of which play in the country’s premier league.
Adidas also owns the Reebok brand.
Profiting from crime
In a 2016 report, Human Rights Watch detailed how world football governing body FIFA profts from serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by allowing the Israel Football Association to conduct games in West Bank settlements.
Palestinians and human rights defenders campaigned for several years to get FIFA to exclude the settlement clubs.
But despite promising to address the issue, FIFA repeatedly bowed to Israeli pressure.
Last May, FIFA boss Gianni Infantino effectively rigged a vote in the body’s congress to protect Israel from sanctions.
In October, FIFA made what appeared to be the final capitulation, giving Israeli teams a green light to continue playing on occupied land, in violation of FIFA’s own policies barring one member association from holding matches on the territory of another without permission.
Palestinians now appear to be targeting their campaign directly at sponsors.
The Palestinian clubs warn Adidas that continued complicity with Israel’s settlements “may expose it to consumer-led boycott campaigns in the Arab world and globally.”
The Palestinian clubs caution Adidas that its involvement in the settlements makes it eligible to appear in a UN database of companies that profit from Israel’s illegal colonization of Palestinian land.
Backing the call, former Palestinian national team player Mahmoud Sarsak stated that “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.”
“Adidas’ sponsorship of the IFA prominently places its iconic logo on Israel’s abuses of our rights,” Sarsak added. “The company must immediately cut ties with the IFA.”
Violating international law
In February, Honda abandoned a motorcycle racing event that had been scheduled to take place in an Israeli settlement after appeals from human rights defenders and warnings from Palestinians that the Japan-based multinational could face boycott calls.
While race organizers blamed safety concerns and the weather, Israeli media credited the impact of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for the cancellation.
The football clubs point out that Adidas previously ended its sponsorship of Israel’s “Jerusalem marathon” after widespread protests against the race, which passed through occupied East Jerusalem.
Hind Awwad from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel noted too that in 2016 Adidas ended its sponsorship of the International Association of Athletics Federations, citing doping and corruption scandals plaguing the organization as a breach of contract.
“Surely involvement in Israeli settlements built in violation of international law should be grounds for ending sponsorship” of the Israeli association, Awwad stated. “Adidas has a responsibility to do the right thing and heed the call from Palestinian football clubs to end its sponsorship of the IFA.”
Adidas states that it “recognizes its corporate responsibility to respect human rights.”
It remains to be seen how the company will respond to demands that it respect the human rights of Palestinians.