hummel drops Aston Villa, keeps sponsoring Tibet

Nike will replace hummel as English Premier League club Aston Villa’s technical sponsors from the 2007/8 season. The deal will see Nike supply Villa's playing and replica kit in addition to a full range of branded sportswear and accessories. "Aston Villa is a major club with a fantastic history and a massive fanbase. We're delighted they will be joining the Nike family, which already includes national teams such as Brazil and the Netherlands and clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Celtic and FC Barcelona," Jim Allaker, vice-president and general manager of Nike UK, said.

In comparison, the Danish company has an unusually eclectic global marketing policy with even its links to Aston Villa, particularly strong in the 1980s, only renewed from the 2004/2005 season. In Asia, for instance, hummel shirts are worn by Yokohama FC in the J-League, by Gwang-Ju Sang-Mu and Busan I-Park in the K-League and, remarkably, the national team of the rigidly Communist-controlled Peoples Democratic Republic of Korea.

Even more interesting is the company's continuing sponsorship of a Tibetan football team, including its "first ever national team game" against the autonomous Danish realm of Greenland at Vanløse Stadion in the outskirts of Copenhagen in July 2001. "The Tibet playing jersey later became a hit worldwide when celebrities such as Bono from U2, known Buddhists Richard Gere and Maxi Jazz and others wore the tops in support of the Tibetan cause," the company's website reports.

"In the small country nestled among snowy mountains the will to fight is still going strong. The impossible has suddenly become possible. And the wish for a national team is no longer merely a dream … The Tibetan national football team has become a reality. And by supporting the Tibetan national team, hummel gives this new team a chance in an old world," it explains.

The Peoples Republic of China regards Tibet - and the football bodies it is a member of, FIFA, the Asian Football Confederation and East Asian Football Federation, acquiesce - as merely one its provinces with no right to a national football team. Despite a history of separate governance to China, Tibet is treated differently to the PRC's two autonomous Special Administrative Regions, Hong Kong and Macau, which are both full members of the football community. Neighbouring Taiwan, governed by the Republic of China (founded in 1910), is also regarded by the PRC (founded in 1949) as its integral territory but football bodies allow it to participate in international events if it uses the name "Chinese Taipei".

Fang Xuan, a dedicated forum moderator of China Daily's website Olympic discussion board, challenged hummel's Tibet connection by mail. "As you know, the Tibet is internationally recognised as an undisputed territory of the People's Republic of China. I think this mistake on your website, intentionally or not, have hurt not only the Chinese national feelings but our attitudes towards your brand," he remarked. "I believe Hummel is a brand big and old enough to be clear of its international responsibility. I sincerely hope you would correct the content timely to avoid the spreading of the negative influence," he warned. "As the 2008 Olympic comes near, the sports market in China is swelling soon accordingly. I wish you would reap your success in my country."

There is no indication on the discussion board that hummel replied to the complaint. And hummel's website remains defiant.