Puma and the BDS Movement: Navigating the Intersection of Sports, Politics, and Human Rights

By Abdelrahman Ahmed November 14, 2023 2630

The intersection of sports, politics, and human rights has become increasingly pronounced, with global movements such as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) targeting companies accused of supporting the Israeli occupation. One prominent target of the BDS movement is the German sportswear company Puma. This essay explores the allegations against Puma, examining the company's purported involvement in activities that BDS considers complicit in the Israeli occupation and human rights violations.

 

Background:

 

The BDS movement originated in 2005, inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement. It advocates for the boycott of Israeli products, divestment from companies supporting Israel, and sanctions against the Israeli government until it complies with international law and respects Palestinian rights. Puma, a globally recognized sportswear brand, finds itself entangled in this controversy due to its association with the Israeli Football Association (IFA) and contracts with companies operating in Israeli settlements.

 

Puma's Complicity:

 

  1. Collaboration with the Israeli Football Association (IFA):

   One of the key accusations against Puma is its collaboration with the IFA. BDS emphasizes that the IFA includes clubs located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are deemed illegal under international law. Puma's association with the IFA is viewed as indirect support for these settlements, thus violating principles of human rights.

 

  1. Contracts with Companies in Israeli Settlements:

   BDS emphasizes that Puma enters into contracts with Israeli companies operating in settlements. According to international law and UN principles, these settlements are considered illegal. Puma's engagement with such entities is seen as a violation of human rights standards, raising concerns about the company's commitment to ethical business practices.

 

The Impact on Puma:

 

The BDS movement has not merely limited its actions to online campaigns and social media posts. It has prompted tangible responses from various international entities. Notable football clubs and organizations have distanced themselves from Puma, reflecting the potential economic consequences of being associated with a brand accused of complicity in human rights violations.

 

  1. Club Actions:

   Several football clubs have taken a stance against Puma. Notable examples include Qatar Club, the football team of Malaysia's largest university, Chester FC, Luton Town FC, Forest Green Rovers FC, Liverpool FC, Malmö FF, Wimbledon FC, Clapton CFC, Palmeiras Fan Association, Bakur Regor FC, and Donegal Celtic FC. These clubs have either terminated their contracts with Puma or pledged not to renew them, signaling a collective rejection of associations with companies allegedly supporting the Israeli occupation.

 

  1. Player Activism:

   The BDS movement has also gained support from athletes, with players from the Balata Youth Center sending a message to Puma's new CEO. The players presented Puma with two options: either join the growing global consensus rejecting complicity with the Israeli occupation or face being branded as supporters of a system that targets and harms Palestinian football players.

 

Puma's Response:

 

Puma has responded to these allegations, emphasizing its commitment to fair play, equality, and social responsibility. The company maintains that its partnerships are apolitical and focus on promoting sports as a unifying force. Puma argues that its engagement with the IFA is in line with its broader strategy of supporting football globally, irrespective of geopolitical issues.

 

  1. **Sport as a Unifying Force:**

   Puma contends that its involvement in sports aims to provide opportunities for everyone to participate in and compete in athletics. The company emphasizes the positive impact of sports in bringing people together, transcending political and cultural boundaries. Puma portrays itself as a facilitator of inclusivity and fair competition.

 

  1. Global Partnerships:

   Puma highlights its global partnerships with various sports organizations, players, and teams as evidence of its commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive sporting community. The company asserts that its collaborations are based on shared values and a dedication to advancing the positive impact of sports on society.

 

Critique of Puma's Stance:

 

While Puma emphasizes its dedication to sportsmanship and inclusivity, critics argue that the company's partnerships with entities connected to the Israeli occupation contradict these principles. The BDS movement contends that Puma's involvement with the IFA indirectly supports the continuation of illegal settlements, contributing to the violation of Palestinian human rights.

 

  1. Selective Activism:

   Critics argue that Puma's claim of apolitical engagement in sports is undermined by its selective partnerships. By associating with the IFA, which includes clubs in settlements deemed illegal by international law, Puma is seen as engaging in a form of political activism that supports the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

  1. Corporate Responsibility:

   The BDS movement calls for corporate responsibility, urging companies like Puma to consider the ethical implications of their business dealings. Critics argue that by maintaining ties with entities involved in human rights violations, Puma risks tarnishing its corporate image and facing economic repercussions as more organizations and consumers become socially conscious.

 

The BDS movement's impact on Puma serves as a reminder of the influential role that consumers, athletes, and organizations can play in shaping corporate behavior. The global community's attention to these issues encourages a broader conversation about the responsibilities of corporations operating in politically sensitive regions and the potential consequences for those who are perceived as complicit in human rights violations. Ultimately, the Puma case prompts reflection on the broader question of how the business of sports intersects with international politics and human rights, challenging companies to reevaluate their roles in promoting positive social change.