The Latest Reebok/UFC Embarrassment: Offending Ireland

Image Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

“The Reebok/UFC deal continues to be the gift that keeps on taking,” Canadian MMA journalist Carlin Bardsley remarked today, as news of the partnership’s latest embarrassment came to light.

The latest — as in, this morning — when one of the greatest figures in Ireland’s MMA scene, John Kavanagh, demanded an apology from Reebok to Irish fans for their latest gaffe.  Kavanagh, who helms Straight Blast Gym Dublin (home of such MMA luminaries as Conor McGregor), took offense to Reebok’s “Ireland” T-shirt, which cropped out the six counties of Northern Ireland:

Sadly, it’s the latest in a long line of flubs by Reebok.

The partnership itself a controversial one — with many fighters describing the exclusivity of the deal costing them thousands of dollars from other sponsors. But then, there’s the long list of goofy errors.

On his official Reebok kit, Gilbert Melendez’s name was misspelled as “Giblert,” prompting a memorable Twitter parody account:

Former heavyweight titlist Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira was another victim of misspelling:

And then there was the strange case of a fighter named “Norifumi Yakovlev” whose kit appeared in the Reebok UFC store to much confusion. To this day, it’s unclear if this gear was meant to honor bantamweight Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto or lightweight Alexander Yakovlev:

There’s more, of course. An article at Caged Insider offers a quick primer.

Today’s case is another matter, though. Kavanagh is mindful of the long and violent dispute over the Republic of Ireland’s borders — and expects the UFC to be cognizant of them. When one says “Ireland” in this part of the world (while describing sports, anyway) they’re referring to the entire island — both the twenty-six counties of the Republic of Ireland and the six counties of Northern Ireland.

That’s why boxer Wayne McCullough, for example, represented Ireland in the Olympic Games, but Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Games. Asked about this, he would say simply he has no interest in politics — which is how many athletes view the matter. Sport is an escape from the contention. It’s not to add to it.

Sadly, someone at Reebok didn’t understand that. As Bardsley put it, it’s the gift that keeps taking. Maybe the question is now, how much can anyone take?