Hummel All The Buzz With A Protest Against Qatar & FIFA That Sports Stakeholders Should Sign Up To

2022-09-30 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Editorial – Bravo Hummel! Bravo Denmark! A model for being there, playing the game but not that game; for making a statement against human rights abuses that Qatar, World Cup football host, and FIFA had, presumably, hoped might be sports-washed away.

The only alternative to the sports-washing theory is to believe that the organisers of the pending football showcase simply don’t care what any of us think about the plight of those who built the stadia under completely unacceptable conditions … just as long as the show goes on and the dollars roll in, all will be well.

Born in Germany, headquartered in Denmark, Hummel has marked the way for other kit providers, many of them all too often silent when it comes to sports washing, doping and much else in the autonomous bubble of woeful governance falling shy of ethical leadership. 
FIFA, the IOC, FINA and many more – all organisations that continue to turn a wilful blind eye to human rights abuses, in China, in the Middle East and elsewhere. 

We are told we live in a time of reform, Olympic Vision XXXX (whatever the next target year may be, Integrity Units (independent, they say… time and action will tell), a new spirit of transparency, cooperation and clearing old old culture responsible for… well, harming people, athletes, coaches, media, experts in various relevant fields and just about anyone else who raised a red flag or even suggested ‘surely not’, let alone a McEnroe-like “you cannot be serious!”

Hummel & A Model Of Protest We’ve Seen In Swimming

The Hummel protest is not entirely new in terms of finding indirect but effective ways of tellings hosts and organisers they’re on the wrong road.

“Wave your flask in the air and show ’em ya care!” was the refrain we heard from a Perth DJ as he invited listeners to make their views on Chinese cheating known in the stands at the 1998 World Swimming Championships in Western Australia. Heavy was the stench of enough human growth hormone (13 vials of it contained in lab flasks) in the kit bag of one teenage girl to fuel the entire China team for a month had they all been suffering from a medical condition that required them to take the medicine made by a Danish company for the sick, ailing and in need of life-improving therapy.

And then there was a stream of diuretic positives to flow alongside FINA leaders telling us all that one might expect extraordinary efforts from a nation of a billion, the fact that the ‘success’ came exclusively from teenage girls, some of them built like boys, all of them victims of abuse.

We were just eight years beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall and seven years beyond the moment Stern Magazin, with the help of one of the chief architects of the GDR doping program, printed the first confirmation of the state-run cheating factory that East Germany had inflicted on the world and its own athletes.

Thirty two years on, neither the IOC nor any of its affiliates at International or domestic level have taken any action in the face of overwhelming, undeniable evidence of the biggest heist in sports history, at the heart of which were and remain athletes experimented on, abused, damaged and robbed, both sides of the story.

Of late, the IOC has washed away its excuse of “statute of limitations” (and washed away prevailing rules of the time the events in question happened) in the interest of one athlete, Jim Thorpe. For generations of women abused and denied in Olympic sport? ‘Please move on, nothing to see here’.

All of that and much more has unfolded (and is still unfolding) without the partners and sponsors and funders uttering a peep later not a tweet, let alone raising a red flag. We are told we live in a time of reform, a new-found spirit of transparency in sports governance in these post-Blatter era at FIFA, post-Maglione/Marculescu era at FINA, and so forth.

The Champagne Dries Up: IOC president Thomas Bach raises a glass with Vladimir Putin but now, the Russian dictator is persona non grata, even though his puppets at the ROC are not

There have been some heartening moves, some fine steps in the right direction, yet the red flags remain, including their living embodiments in positions of authority, including the ridiculous IOC notion that it can separate the Putin from his puppets at the Russian Olympic Committee, let the blazers of banned countries continue to serve in “the Movement” but watch athletes cop it for appearing at rallies, regardless of whether they were their by choice, pushed or shoved.

In the past, all efforts to call out bad practices and atrocious decision-making (including decisions to do nothing) has been left to athletes, coaches, media … and living legends. As the good folk of Perth packed their flasks before heading down to the pool back in 1998, Shane Gould turned up at the championships in a yellow t-shirt, handed out many more along with yellow balloons before she made a statement that noted the reason: say no to doping, do not tolerate cheating, governors, do something about it; swimming had a bright, sunshine-like future the colour of her shirts and balloons but not if a blind eye was to be turned to systematic cheating yet again, less that a decade after the GDR was done.

A FINA official standing next to me as Shane spoke said ‘who does she think she is; she has no platform here… this is a FINA event’. I replied: ‘If Shane Gould cannot stand up and speak in favour of clean sport in Australia, perhaps we should cancel the championships and all go home’. 

Shane spoke, the yellow subordination was staged The Championships went ahead, the China crisis hanging heavy in the air like a dark cloud over swimming, its biggest showcase beyond the Olympics and the leadership presiding over a house of cards built on rotten foundations. 

Like Gould and her yellow t-shorts and balloons in 1998 and Hummel in 2022, the partners and funders, athletes, coaches, fans and all others who make up the stakeholders who provide the show for sports authorities falling down on the job when it comes to integrity and ethical governance should follow suit and find ways to announce their calm protest before heading to events, then let the silent colour, pattern, cut and jib of kit scream the notes of discord necessary to make the point: “Mind the Gap: we are not them; they are not us; we do not represent them and they do not represent us; we are pursuing excellence, they are pursuing self-interest; we want Fair Play; they are happy to hold hands with Foul Play”. 

Gould’s mellow-yellow protest and Hummel’s colour-bled stance are just as visible as the podium protests staged by Mack Horton and Duncan Scott at Gwangju 2019 but broadcasters are able to ‘manage’ some moments easier than others. When Horton and Scott opted out of podium photos with Sun Yang* under a giant World-Championship mantra of “Dive into Peace”, it was impossible not to make sizeable mention of the issues in play. So, FINA snapped all three swimmers with an official warning (Sun because he made a fuss in front of the cameras when leaning into Scott with a Tarzan-like ‘me winner, you loser’ response).

It will be interesting to see what Qatar and FIFA do about Hummel and Denmark (likely nothing, for doing something would surely make matters worse for them); what broadcasters and others do.

Hummel’s move is strategic, this Reuters report suggests

It takes strategy to fight strategy. It also takes all stakeholders – including those partners that have made a habit of standing silently behind a curtain and thinking we haven’t noticed them – to stand together and tell regulators and host that all bidding processes must in future pass an Integrity and Human Rights test set independently by experts in the field. If the points don’t add up, the bid gets sent back before the competition to host even begins. 

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