It’s not hard to see what happened here. A bunch of marketers were sitting around Puma’s headquarters in Germany, worrying: If there are only 5 African countries in the World Cup, then that’s only 5 countries that are going to buy our ridiculously expensive kits. Then one of them had a genius plan: let’s make an African Unity kit. Give each African team the same third kit (because, under the surface, all Africans are the same really), which means the whole continent can buy it. And many probably would have: I was genuinely excited, and probably would have stumped up the money. Until I saw it. From the marketers, the idea clearly went to the designers. What do we know about Africa, they pondered. Dust. Dirt. Mud. Brown people. Animals. Crocodiles. Rivers. Yes, that’s it: let’s take a nice white kit, go for a walk in a muddy river, and then give it to the Africans. They’ll love it. And let’s get some African footballers to model it on a sandpatch (they don’t have proper pitches, you see), and superimpose picture of cuddly wild animals.
This is disappointing from Puma, who’s history in football shirt design in Africa is pretty good. Aside from sponsoring most of the continent, they – along with the Cameroon national team – created two of the most innovative kits in recent memory: the sleeveless kit, which FIFA famously banned, and the one-piece kit, which FIFA also banned. And yet somehow I think the African Unity kit will escape censure; Sepp Blatter is a man who is famously happy to link kit design with stereotypes