Youth and sports ministers of the Arab League, which comprised of 22 Arab nations across Middle East and North Africa, have announced that their countries will boycott sportswear giant Adidas over the company’s sponsorship of last month’s Jerusalem marathon. Adidas is a sports apparel manufacturer based in Germany, it is the second biggest sportswear manufacturer in the world. The company also owns Reebok, the third biggest sportswear manufacturer.
Saudi Prince Nawaf bin Faisal, chairman of the Arab League council of youth and sports ministers, made the joint announcement: All companies that have sponsored the marathon of Jerusalem, including Adidas, will be boycotted, the Prince said at the end of meeting of the council in Jeddah. Adidas is the only non-Israeli corporate sponsor of the race.
Israel holds the annual ‘International Jerusalem Marathon’ since 2011, a long-distance running event which allows participants around the world to run through and narrate the story of Jerusalem in the course of 3000 years of its history, combining the physical challenge for runners with splendid views and the culture of Jerusalem. At the end of the race, Israel will host an EXPO fair, displaying the country’s sports, health and medical technologies to the world. Israel’s medicine and genetics technologies is widely considered to be among the world’s most advanced.
Prince Nawaf said the council had also decided to organise a separate marathon next year in Arab cities entitled Jerusalem is Ours to counter the Jerusalem Marathon. Israel is trying to misguide public opinion into believing that Jerusalem is its capital and that is a violation of all UN resolutions, Prince Nawaf added.
Around 15,000 runners participated in the March 16 International Jerusalem Marathon, which sparked controversy because part of the route passed through East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians consider the future capital of their state.
But the public anger across Middle East is now not only-limited to Israel or the West. Speaking at a symposium organized by the National University of Singapores Middle East Institute (MEI), Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent US-educated UAE University political scientist, cautioned that despite continued public Arab condemnation of US and Western support for Israel, Arab’s anger might have spread to Asia, as China was for the first time seeing its flags burnt at demonstrations and calls for boycotts of Chinese goods echoing on Arab social media.
China last year angered the Arab World by supporting a NATO-backed UN resolution that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi. Sensing the displeasure across Middle East for its Libyan policies, China this year refused to support the UN-resolution on Syria, but this backfired and aroused even more anger in the region.
Speaking at the same symposium, Peking University Wu Bingbing identified the new wave of anti-China protests in the Middle East and North Africa as a threat to Chinese interests, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two of China’s key energy suppliers. Mr. Bingbing described that China lacks understanding of the Arab world’s politics but find it necessary to back its ally Russia. An Arab League representative, speaking under condition of anonymity, said the League members confronted senior Russian officials in blunt, undiplomatic terms during a heated debate behind-closed-doors.
Mr Abdulla however, suggested that at this point the growing anti-Chinese and anti-Russian sentiment in Middle East was unlikely to damage Chinas economic interests in the region despite Arab leaders publicly criticizing China and Russia for their vetoes of anti-Syrian resolutions in the United Nations Security Council, adding that it is strategically irrational for the Arab world to go against the West, Russia and China at the same time.
Though the boycott might seemingly benefits Nike, the world’s largest sportswear manufacturer, Nike actually has its own share of troubles with the Muslim world. Nike introduced its “Air” line of basketball shoes in 1996 with a stylized, flame-like logo of the word Air on the shoe’s backside and sole. This was interpreted by Muslims as the Arabic-script spelling of ‘Allah’, more so especially with Nike’s extensive relationship with its Jewish designers. Though Nike settled the issue in 1998, with the advent of internet, the matters is again circulated with conspiracy theories that Nike is making products which encourage Muslims to ‘step on Allah’.
In case of Adidas, the Middle East accounts for 0.7% of its revenues, the U.S. 25%, Latin America 9%, Asia 33% and the rest from Europe. The fastest growth comes from the Chinese markets, with China, Taiwan and Hong Kong power 25% of Adidas revenues growth last year, while the company has also gained strong foot in India with the launching of the $1 shoe. The sportswear giant has 2,212 retail stores around the world.