Spartan Arabia cuts ties with parent company after founder's Israel-Gaza comments

Joe De Sena caused outrage with video of support for Israel's attacks

HATTA, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Participants doing the obstacle course of the Spartan race course in the terrain Hatta Mountain Bike Trail, Dubai.  Leslie Pableo for The National
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The Middle East franchise owners of the popular global obstacle race Spartan have cut ties with the parent company following comments by founder and chief executive Joe De Sena about the Israel-Gaza War.

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"For the past 10 years, we have represented the Spartan brand in the Middle East," Spartan Arabia posted on Instagram Tuesday evening. "Seeing that our core values do not align with the founder of Spartan Race, we have decided to not continue our relationship with the Spartan brand.

"To all our amazing racers, thank you for a decade filled with thrilling challenges, enduring friendships, and boundless love and respect. You'll for ever hold a special place in our hearts."

The post was preceded by an announcement cancelling a coming Spartan-branded event, scheduled to take place in Sharjah next month.

De Sena, who founded Spartan in 2009 and turned it into a global franchise, caused outrage last month when he posted an Instagram reel showing his support for Israel's attack on Gaza.

“We have to stand with our allies," De Sena said in the video, which has since been deleted. “When bad stuff happens, we have to respond. 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: “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”.

The video sparked widespread condemnation, especially from obstacle course racing communities in the Middle East.

Both Spartan Arabia and OCR Empire, which claims to be the largest community of its kind in the Middle East, slammed De Sena and his comments.

“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,” OCR Empire said. “What we can do is speak up, be heard, and try to help the innocent people who have had their humanity taken from them.”

A day after the controversial post, De Sena deleted the video and posted an apology saying he's had a “clearer perspective" after “engaging in substantive conversations with our Middle East partners and stakeholders”.

“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," he said.

His apology, however, prompted angry comments, with many still calling for the Spartan brand and event to be boycotted.

More than 200 Spartan races are held annually in over 40 countries around the world, including multiple events across the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Spartan World Championship 2023, a three-day event set to bring together top athletes from around the world, is set to begin in Abu Dhabi’s Al Wathba on Friday.

More than 15,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed during eight weeks of war. The toll is likely to be much higher, with the Gaza Health Ministry reporting that thousands more are dead under the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Updated: December 05, 2023, 2:43 PM