Nike leads the way with it’s Muslim in Sports “equality” ads

Category: Marketing Date: Monday, 24 April 2017 21:23

Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first Muslim woman athlete competing for America to wear hijab during the 2016 Rio Olympics. As one of the most-talked about Olympians, she did her best to deflect the hyper focus on her religion or what she wears while still competing on a world-class level.  Showing much grace and humility Muhammad used her platform to educate, and make history by becoming the first Muslim-American to stand on a podium at the Olympics, winning a bronze. 

Sportswear manufacturer Nike’s newly developed ads point to an ongoing cultural shift that has seen more women than ever embracing sport. The company recently announced plans to debut a "Pro Hijab" for Muslim women who compete. Muhammad, who has her own modest fashion line, Louella, isn't involved in the Nike campaign, but her impact is undeniable. 

The rules under different sports federations do not specifically ban hijabs, but the general language in which headgear is banned inadvertently prohibits hijab during competition, and it can also affect Sikh and Jewish athletes who choose to observe their faith by covering their heads.


This discussion around hijab in sport may seem relatively new for most. But for Muslim women who choose to wear the traditional head covering, there have been several instances where it has been banned, forcing some athletes to choose between honoring their faith and not playing their respective sport, or removing it in order to compete. And it's those women and girls that Nike decided to celebrate in its new commercials that have gone viral. The ad features five successful female professional and everyday athletes from different parts of the Arab world.

Zahra Lari, the first Emirati figure skater, is one of the featured athletes. Dubbed as the "Ice Princess" of the United Arab Emirates, she has gracefully glided and jumped over obstacles put forward by her own community.

 "People thought it's dancing. In front of men, that's not acceptable," Lari recently told News broadcaster CNN. 

 She is shattering not only the gender norms within the UAE, but also disrupting the Western perception of Arab women.

 "I am covered, I am Muslim, I am from a desert country, but I am doing a winter sport and it's fine," Lari told Nike. 

 Other women featured in the ad include Tunisian fencer and Olympics medalist Ines Boubakri, Emirati Parkour trainer Amal Mourad, Saudi singer Balqees Fathi and Jordanian boxer Arifa Bseiso. Nike said it wanted the video – which was narrated by Saudi actress Fatima Al-Banawi and shot in and around Dubai – to be "local and genuine."

 "The film aims to highlight the stories of amazing athletes to encourage and inspire others," Hind Rasheed, said Nike's communication manager in Dubai. 

The ad was viewed more than 3 million times on social media in two days, however it sparked a debate over its message as some found the ad inspiring, and others were not happy with the message of the commercial. Rasheed maintains Nike wanted "to use the power of sport to change society positively."


In addition to the ads Nike has taken another step into the lucrative Islamic clothing market by unveiling a hijab designed for female Muslim athletes. The pull-on hijab is made of light, stretchy fabric that includes tiny holes for breathability and an elongated back so it will not come untucked. It will come in three colours: black, grey and obsidian and goes on sale in 2018.

Lari, a hopeful for the Winter Olympics next year in Pyeongchang, South Korea, posted photos of herself wearing the hijab on her Instagram page.  The launch was also welcomed on social media. But some users argued the company was not doing anything particularly groundbreaking.

The U-17 Women’s World Cup last October in Jordan marked the first time Muslim players wore headscarves during a Fifa event. Football’s international governing body formally lifted a ban on head coverings in 2014, recognising Muslim and Sikh players.

Meanwhile, the governing body for basketball, Fiba, has come under fire for banning headscarves during international competition. Nike has also been making a play for Muslim customers in the Middle East in recent years, opening stores in the region and launching a training app in Arabic.

The Islamic market is projected to be worth more than $5tr by 2020.