German sportswear giant Adidas has resolved a dispute with Morocco over a design on a football top for neighbouring Algeria, which the kingdom claimed was appropriating Morocco’s “cultural heritage” as it drew on the Zellige, a traditional style of mosaic tilework common throughout the Maghreb region.
On Friday a press release issued by the company stated that following discussions with the Moroccan Ministry of Culture they had reached “a positive resolution to the football jersey issue.”
“The design was inspired indeed by the Zellige mosaics pattern, and was at no time intended to offend anyone,” the company said in the statement. Adidas also said it had “deep respect to the people and craftsmen of Morocco” and that it had regretted the controversy surrounding the case.
Late last month, Moroccan government lawyer Mourad Elajouti in a statement posted on Facebook said he had issued a legal warning to Adidas on behalf of the country’s Ministry of Culture. Elajouti claimed that the new design was cultural appropriation and “an attempt to steal a form of Moroccan cultural heritage and use it outside its context.”
Elajouti demanded that the company either remove the pre-match training collection within two weeks or issue a statement “to identify the Zellige art of Morocco as an inspiration” for the design. However, Adidas initially said that the design was inspired by the tiling on Algeria’s El Mechouar Palace in the north-west of the country built in the 13th century during the Zayyanid dynasty.
In a statement on Friday reacting to the news, Elajouti said “This case demonstrated to us tangibly the importance of protecting Moroccan cultural heritage.” The dispute being resolved favourably, he said demonstrated “the pivotal role Morocco plays in the region in defending the intangible cultural heritage in the face of cultural appropriation attempts.”
The press release by Adidas while expressing regret, stopped short of recognising Zellige as part of Moroccan heritage, reported World Morocco News, which stated that the use of the word “regret” was an attempt “to cover up their cultural appropriation through their collection which was inspired by Morocco’s mosaic patterns.”
The company’s communique also did not include an official apology to Morocco and ignored that Morocco registered the Zellige of Fez in the Vienna Classification of Figurative Elements of the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2015.
Adidas have thus far not commented on whether it will withdraw the controversial Algerian jersey. Meanwhile, local media in Algeria have reported that the country’s football federation was not satisfied with the brand’s handling of the dispute and was considering terminating its contract with them. However, according to Algerian football channel DZfoot, the Algerian national team will be leaving Adidas for Puma as the contract is set to expire at the end of 2022.