Nike sparks controversy with ‘playful update’ to England’s cross of St. George

Nike has come under pressure to scrap a flag design on its recently-released England soccer kit, including from UK opposition leader Keir Starmer.

The new jersey features a small cross of St. George stitched in different colors onto the back of the collar, rather than the traditional red cross and white background of the English flag.

Nike said that the design – which has various shades of blue, purple and red – is a “playful update” to the flag and is intended to “unite and inspire.”

The top will be worn by England’s players at the European Championships in Germany later this year.

Speaking to UK tabloid The Sun on Thursday, Labour Party leader Starmer said that the flag “doesn’t need to be changed.”

He added: “I’m a big football fan. I go to England games, men’s and women’s games, and the flag is used by everybody. It is a unifier … We just need to be proud of it.

“I think they should just reconsider this and change it back. I’m not even sure they can properly explain why they thought they needed to change it in the first place.”

England captain Harry Kane wears his national team's new kit. - The FA/Getty Images
England captain Harry Kane wears his national team's new kit. - The FA/Getty Images

Starmer added that the price of the shirt, listed at £124.99 (around $157) on the Nike website, should also be reduced. The authentic men’s jersey is currently sold out on the Nike website, though women’s and kids’ versions are in stock.

“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,” Nike said in a statement on Friday.

“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 [World Cup-winning] 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.”

The company has also released an away kit – purple with multi-colored side panels – for the Three Lions, but it’s the flag design on the home jersey which has sparked most debate on social media: some arguing that it’s disrespectful, others that it’s harmless and people are overreacting.

“You wouldn’t expect Nike to go off and have a look at the Welsh flag and decide to change the dragon to a pussycat,” UK lawmaker Emily Thornberry told Sky News on Friday.

“You wouldn’t expect the England flag to be changed like this. You wouldn’t expect bits of purple in the French Tricolor. Why are they doing it? I don’t understand.”

This isn’t the first time that Nike has garnered criticism for an England football jersey. Ahead of last year’s Women’s World Cup, the company did not put the uniform worn by goalkeeper Mary Earps on sale, despite the Golden Glove winner’s campaigning efforts.

Nike later acknowledged that it “didn’t serve those fans who wished to show their passion and support to the squad’s goalkeepers,” according to Reuters, and subsequently made the goalkeeper jerseys of several teams available for sale.

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