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Why Is Flag on England Soccer Jersey Sparking Fury in UK?

A new design caused an uproar in the U.K., with politicians, former footballers and fans all divided over the shirt.

Published March 22, 2024

England captain Harry Kane wearing England's new 2024 home jersey. ( Getty Images)
England captain Harry Kane wearing England's new 2024 home jersey. (Image Via Getty Images)

On March 18, 2024, the England soccer team unveiled its new home and away jerseys to be worn in the summer's 2024 UEFA European Football Championship.

Designed by Nike, the home shirt is a classic white with blue and red detailing, while the away shirt is purple, in a first for the English national team. Both are to be worn by the men's, women's and para teams throughout the year.

However, a minor detail on the home jersey sparked fury in some corners of the English media and soccer landscape — the small St. George's Cross on the back collar.

Traditionally, the symbol was depicted by a red cross on a white background. However, Nike's design featured a mixture of dark blue, light blue and purple on the horizontal band of the cross.

The tweak caused outrage online, with some fans demanding the jersey be scrapped due to the additional colors partially resembling the bisexual pride flag.

The Conservative U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the opposition Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer both criticized the change.

One sitting Member of Parliament (MP) branded it "wokeness gone mad," while the former leader of the far-right British Nationalist Party (BNP) said the change was part of a "cultural Marxist drive" to corrupt children, make people infertile, and encourage rebellion against God.

However, when releasing the jersey on March 18, Nike simply described the design change as "a playful update" to the flag.

Responding to criticism, a March 22 statement from Nike said "it was never our attention to offend" people with the design. Rather, the company wanted "to celebrate the heroes of 1966 [England's World Cup winning team] and their achievements" by paying homage to the 1966 team's training kit.

Nike's statement in full:

"We have been a proud partner of the F.A. [English Football Association] 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.

Together with the F.A., 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."

Likewise, the F.A. defended the change, saying "it is not the first time" different colors have been used.

In 2010, Umbro produced a home England jersey bearing numerous small crosses in a range of colors. British designer Peter Saville, who worked with Umbro in designing the shirt, once stated he wanted to "take the cross of St George and make it in a multitude of colours."

"I wanted it to be something that a diverse cross-section of people could identify with," Saville said.

In a 2010 interview, he said the different colors of the flag were "much more representative of how we understand England, the U.K., today."

The flag has been adapted on numerous occasions for past kits, British newspaper the i reported (archived here). In some cases the shape of the cross was changed, and in others the colors were completely overhauled, more so than on the latest jersey.

There were no plans to withdraw the kit at the time of this writing, according to reports.

Sources

Association, The Football. 'England Get Fresh Look for 2024'. Https://Www.Englandfootball.Com, https://www.englandfootball.com/articles/2024/Mar/18/england-mens-womens-para-new-nike-kits-revealed-for-2024-20241803. Accessed 22 Mar. 2024.

Duell, Mark. 'Outraged Fans Demand Nike Recalls England's Official Kit for Euro 2024'. Mail Online, 21 Mar. 2024, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-13223663/England-football-kit-Euro-2024-Nike-St-Georges-Cross.html.

'England Kit: FA Has No Plans to Recall Controversial Shirt after Rishi Sunak Weighs in on Nike's "playful Update" of St George's Cross'. Sky Sports, https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/13099846/england-kit-rishi-sunak-weighs-in-on-furore-around-nikes-playful-update-of-st-georges-cross. Accessed 22 Mar. 2024.

'FA Defends New England Kit over Flag Design'. BBC News, 22 Mar. 2024. www.bbc.co.uk, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-68640129.

'Https://Twitter.Com/FootballMuseum/Status/1771128547643392085'. X (Formerly Twitter), https://twitter.com/FootballMuseum/status/1771128547643392085. Accessed 22 Mar. 2024.

Keegan, Mike. 'Nike and the FA Insist They Will NOT Recall England's Euro 2024 Kit'. Mail Online, 21 Mar. 2024, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-13223167/Nike-FA-insist-NOT-recall-Englands-controversial-Euro-2024-kit-altering-St-Georges-Cross-claim-new-strip-honours-countrys-1966-World-Cup-heroes.html.

Mitchell, Hilary. 'Redesigned England Kit Blasted as "woke, Gay Nonsense" by Outraged Right-Wingers'. PinkNews | Latest Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans News | LGBTQ+ News, 22 Mar. 2024, https://www.thepinknews.com/2024/03/22/england-kit-bisexual-woke/.

'Nike Defends St George's Cross Changes to England Shirt - "It Was Never Our Intention to Offend"'. Sky News, https://news.sky.com/story/nike-england-shirt-row-dont-mess-with-national-flags-says-sunak-after-us-brand-changes-st-georges-cross-13099750. Accessed 22 Mar. 2024.

Paley, Tony. 'Keir Starmer Calls for England to Scrap Kit with New St George's Cross Design'. The Guardian, 21 Mar. 2024. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2024/mar/21/keir-starmer-calls-for-england-to-scrap-euros-kit-with-new-st-georges-cross-design-football.

Peter Saville Interview: New England Football Shirt Design. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UU3wrq51_ZA. Accessed 22 Mar. 2024.

Simms, George. 'Every Time England Have Played in Kits with Non-Traditional St George's Cross'. Inews.Co.Uk, 22 Mar. 2024, https://inews.co.uk/sport/football/england-played-no-st-george-cross-2969798.

'Sunak Says "don't Mess" with Flag on England Football Kit'. BBC News, 21 Mar. 2024. www.bbc.co.uk, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-68632034.

'Why We Need Bi Visibility Day'. Stonewall, 23 Sept. 2018, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/about-us/news/why-do-we-need-bi-visibility-day.

Nick Hardinges is a London-based reporter who previously worked as a fact-checker at Reuters.

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