Spartan race founder apologises for 'inadvertently taking sides' in Israel-Gaza war

American entrepreneur had earlier shown support for Israel's aggression, saying 'we have to stand with our allies'

Joe De Sena, founder and chief executive of Spartan. Photo: Spartan Arabia
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The founder and chief executive of globally popular obstacle race Spartan has apologised for “inadvertently taking sides” in the Israel-Gaza war.

Joe De Sena said he had a “clearer perspective on the unintended repercussions of my statements” after “engaging in substantive conversations with our Middle East partners and stakeholders”.

In a since-deleted video posted on Instagram on Monday, American entrepreneur De Sena showed 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.”

De Sena's comments caused outrage in the Middle East, prompting one group to announce it would no longer attend any Spartan events in the region.

OCR Empire, a 500-strong community dedicated to obstacle course racing in the Middle East, said De Sena's comments went against "our values”.

“The founder of this brand has shown support for the continuing genocide, which does not align with our morals,” the group posted on Instagram on Tuesday.

Spartan hosts more than 200 events around the world, including in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which De Sena often attends.

Spartan Arabia, the regional franchise, also posted a statement on Instagram saying De Sena's comments “do not whatsoever reflect any of our values at Spartan Arabia”.

By Tuesday, De Sena had deleted the video as well as the accompanying caption in which he said: “As Spartans we stand with our fellow Spartans and brothers and sisters in Israel.” He ended the message with the Jewish affirmation phrase Yisrael Chai or “the people of Israel live”.

In the latest apology video, De Sena said: “Reflecting on the recent video I shared, where I expressed solidarity with one side without a full understanding of the intricate political dynamics and the whole picture, I acknowledge the depth of my oversight and I sincerely apologise.

“It is crucial to stress that my intention was never to align myself with any particular side. My commitment lies in fostering dialogue and understanding rather than inadvertently taking sides. Spartan, as a global community, upholds the tenets of inclusivity, and any perception to the contrary is a personal failure,” he said.

A former stock trader, De Sena turned his passion for long-distance running into the hugely successful Spartan obstacle races in 2009. Today, Spartan events are held in more than 40 countries around the world.

De Sena's apology video on Wednesday, however, prompted angry comments, with many still calling for the Spartan brand and event to be boycotted.

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 16, 2023, 5:43 AM