Kuala Lumpur Post

Sports

Flag change on new England football kit causes uproar

LONDON — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday waded into a row over a new England football shirt designed by Nike that changes the colours of the St George’s Cross, saying “we shouldn’t mess” with national flags.

The US sportswear giant altered the appearance of the Cross – the flag of England – using purple and blue horizontal stripes in what it called a “playful update” to the shirt ahead of Euro 2024, which starts in June.

Nike and the Football Association said the colours on the back of the collar – different from the traditional red cross on a white background – were inspired by the training kit worn by England’s 1966 World Cup winners.

But the decision has led to a furious backlash from some fans and former players, with leading politicians weighing in.

Sunak – a fan of Championship side Southampton – said he “prefers the original” England shirt.

“My general view is that when it comes to our national flags, we shouldn’t mess with them,” he told reporters. “Because they are a source of pride, identity, who we are, and they’re perfect as they are.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer, whose remit includes sport, said the FA and its kit partner had failed to put supporters first.

“Our national heritage – including St George’s Cross – brings us together. Toying with it is pointless and unnecessary,” she said on X.

Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour party and an Arsenal supporter, called on Nike to “reconsider” its decision.

“I’m a big football fan, I go to England games, men and women’s games, and the flag is used by everybody. It is a unifier. It doesn’t need to be changed. We just need to be proud of it,” Starmer told the Sun newspaper.

In a statement later on Friday, Nike said it “was never its intention to offend” but did not indicate any plans to change the kit design.

“We have been a proud partner of the FA since 2012 and understand the significance and importance of the St George’s Cross and it was never our intention to offend, given what it means to England fans,” it said.

“Together with the FA, the intention was to celebrate the heroes of 1966 and their achievements. The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple.

“The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag on the back of the collar.”

England boss Gareth Southgate insisted the controversy had not affected their preparations for Saturday’s friendly with Brazil at Wembley.

“It has not taken anything away from what we’ve been preparing for all day,” Southgate said.

“It’s not been high on my list of priorities but it depends which bit it is. I don’t know if the debate is about the St George’s flag needing to be on the England shirt because it hasn’t always been.

“The most important thing on the England shirt is our Three Lions because that is an iconic symbol. It is the thing that distinguishes us.

“Then I suppose what you’re asking is, should we be tampering with the cross of St George? If it is not a red cross and a white background, then it’s not a cross of St George anyway, so it is a hard question to answer.”

The FA said it was proud of the kit design, also referencing the 1966 link.

“It is not the first time that different coloured St George’s Cross-inspired designs have been used on England shirts,” said a spokesman.

The debate over the new design comes with British politics in the grip of so-called “culture war” issues, pitting proponents of “traditionalist” values, such as Sunak’s ruling Conservatives, against those with more liberal, “progressive” views. — AFP