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Why Nike's New England Soccer Kit Has Caused Controversy in the U.K.

Nike unveiled the England soccer team’s new kits for the UEFA Euro 2024 tournament—and ignited controversy over one detail that has led to calls for change. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is among the prominent voices to speak out about the redesign.

In the new football kit, as the soccer uniform is known in the U.K., Nike changed some of the colors of the St. George Cross—the traditional red cross against a white background on the English flag.

The change caused uproar among some fans, leading to calls to boycott the sports manufacturer and criticism from politicians. The BBC reported that Nike has no plans to change the design. TIME has reached out to Nike for comment.

Meanwhile in an emailed statement to TIME, the Football Association (FA) said: "The new England 2024 'Home' kit has a number of design elements which were meant as a tribute to the 1966 World Cup winning team. The coloured trim on the cuffs is inspired by the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, and the same colours also feature on the design on the back of the collar. It is not the first time that different coloured St George’s cross-inspired designs have been used on England shirts."

The FA went on to add: "We are very proud of the red and white St George’s cross—the England flag. We understand what it means to our fans, and how it unites and inspires, and it will be displayed prominently at Wembley tomorrow [Saturday, March 23]—as it always is—when England play Brazil."

Here’s what you need to know about the controversy.

What happened to the St. George Cross on the England soccer kit? 

Nike released the new uniform design online on March 18. On the back of the collar, the company made what it called a “playful update” to the cross of St. George by layering pink-purple and blue stripes into one band of the cross to “unite and inspire.”

It’s not the first time a designer has played around with U.K. flags on sports uniforms and received backlash. As noted by the BBC, designer Stella McCartney’s uniforms for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics featured a blue and white Union Jack, instead of the traditional red, white, and blue interlaced crosses on the British flag.

What have been the reactions to the new England soccer kit? 

Fans have left thousands of comments on Nike’s announcement of the design on X (formerly Twitter), criticizing the company for being “woke” and calling to #BoycottNike. Conservative political organization Turning Point U.K. defended their national pride in posts on X and called for a “Rally for British Culture” in London on March 23 in response.

However, some on X criticized that they felt the issue was overblown in light of U.K. and world crises and the focus from politicians and the media was unmerited.

“Is the design of the England kit the most pressing issue of the day?” one social media user queried.

The Flag of St. George is presented at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Dec. 4, 2022. <span class="copyright">Nick Potts–PA Images/Getty Images</span>
The Flag of St. George is presented at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar on Dec. 4, 2022. Nick Potts–PA Images/Getty Images

What have politicians said about the change? 

Sunak told Sky News on March 22 that he prefers the original cross of St. George.

"When it comes to our national flags, we shouldn't mess with them because they're a source of pride, identity, who we are, and they're perfect as they are," he said.

The Prime Minister joins a chorus of criticism from the U.K.’s political leaders. Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said in a post on X: "Fans should always come first, and it's clear that this is not what fans want. Our national heritage—including St George's Cross—brings us together. Toying with it is pointless and unnecessary.”

Another prominent politician, leader of the Labour Party Keir Starmer was asked by the Sun in an interview on March 21 whether it was wrong for Nike to change the cross.

He responded: “I think it was. 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, it doesn’t need to be changed. We just need to be proud of it. So 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.”

Starmer added that he thinks Nike could also reduce the price of the shirts. They are currently retailing for £125 pounds ($157).

Another Labour Party member Emily Thornberry, interviewed on Sky News on March 22, said: “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. You wouldn’t expect the England flag to be changed like this.”

Contact us at letters@time.com.