Spartan Arabia condemns group founder's comments on Israel-Gaza war

Middle East franchise says Joe De Sena's views on the conflict do not reflect its values

Joe De Sena, the founder and chief executive of globally popular obstacle race Spartan. Photo: Spartan Arabia
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Spartan Arabia, the Middle East franchise of the globally popular obstacle race Spartan, is distancing itself from comments made by founder and chief executive Joe De Sena about the Israel-Gaza War.

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“At Spartan Arabia, we pride ourselves on building inclusive, healthy communities. The recent comments by the Spartan Race founder do not whatsoever reflect any of our values at Spartan Arabia. We remain dedicated to promoting sports and health as our core values,” the Spartan Arabia team wrote on its Instagram account on Tuesday.

The post came hours after OCR Empire, a community dedicated to obstacle course racing in the Middle East, said it would no longer support Spartan races following De Sena's comments.

In an Instagram post addressed to Spartan Inc and titled We Are Out, OCR Empire said: “It is disheartening to see politics brought into a sport that we all love. What the Spartan CEO has posted goes against our values as a community. We will forever stand for human rights.

“As a community, we will not participate in or support Spartan races any more as the founder of this brand has shown support for the continuing genocide, which does not align with our morals,” it added. “What we can do is speak up, be heard, and try to help the innocent people who have had their humanity taken from them.”

On its website, OCR Empire claims to be the largest community of its kind in the Middle East and the third in the world with more than 500 members participating in more than 100 races around the world.

De Sena posted a reel on Instagram on Monday, showing his support for Israel's attack on Gaza saying: “We have to stand with our allies.

“When bad stuff happens, we have to respond,” he added. “No one wants to see civilians hurt, but you have to respond when evil steps in.”

In the caption accompanying the post, De Sena added that “within hours of that horrific terrorist attack, there were celebrations of the brutality not only in Gaza but throughout the western world.

“As Spartans we stand with our fellow Spartans and brothers and sisters in Israel,” he said, ending his message with the Jewish affirmation phrase Yisrael Chai or “the people of Israel live”.

By Tuesday afternoon UAE time, De Sena had edited his caption following the backlash. While the video remained on his Instagram, the caption had been changed to: “Spartan is the most inclusive sport the world has. It brings us all together. I have raced alongside every culture. I have stood up events in countries that had never allowed this type of sport. Can we all work together to stop these kinds of acts on each other? One world. One species. One great sport. Together.”

But an hour later, the video was also deleted from his account.

New York-born De Sena, a former stock trader, turned his passion for long-distance running into the hugely successful Spartan obstacle races. Founded in 2009, Spartan now hosts more than 200 events in 40 countries around the world.

Spartan Arabia, the Middle East franchise, hosts multiple events across the UAE, many of them attended by De Sena. Spartan World Championship 2023, a three-day event set to bring together top athletes from around the world, is scheduled to take place in Abu Dhabi’s Al Wathba from December 8 to 10.

More than 11,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded amid heavy Israeli bombardment of Gaza since the start of the current conflict on October 7.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 8:03 AM