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Leicester Mercury | May 30, 2008


Activists say Leicester Tigers' new sponsorship deal with Caterpillar could tarnish the club's reputation.

The US-based construction giant supplies bulldozers to the Israeli government.

Human rights organisations say the Israeli Defence Forces then fit the vehicles with armour plating and gun mounts and have used them to demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes since 2002.

Caterpillar has attracted extensive criticism for its sales to the Israeli military from a host of international organisations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

This week, it announced a five-year multi-million pound sponsorship deal with the Tigers, believed to be the biggest in rugby history.

The company, which has a large plant outside Desford, will become the club's sole sponsor on their kit, with dominant branding throughout the Welford Road stadium, replacing previous sponsors Bradstone.

Steve Bonham, chairman of the Leicester branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: "I am outraged that a sports club of which Leicester has the right to be proud is willing to accept sponsorship from Caterpillar.

"I have personally seen Caterpillar bulldozers used to destroy Palestinian olive groves."

Jane Foxworthy, treasurer of the group, said: "This is a real shame and very disappointing."

She said the group would discuss whether to write or protest.

Phil Adams, former secretary of Amnesty International's Leicester branch, said: "It may put the team's reputation at risk to be associated with the company.

"Caterpillar may see sponsoring the team as a public relations opportunity, but the best way to improve their image is to end its sales to Israel."

American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death, aged 23, by an Israeli soldier driving a militarised Caterpillar D9 in 2003.

The BBC reported in 2004 that UN human rights official Jean Ziegler wrote to Caterpillar chief executive Jim Owens expressing "deep concern" over sales of bulldozers to Israel.

Two years ago, the Church of England disinvested 2.2 million worth of Caterpillar shares to distance itself from companies profiting from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.

Earlier this week, Tigers chief executive Peter Wheeler told the Leicester Mercury the club was looking forward to working with their new sponsor.

He added: "The introduction of such a respected, global brand into the sport should be celebrated throughout the rugby world and reflects well on the quality and development of the Guinness Premiership."

The club today declined to comment on the criticisms.

Former Tigers fly-half Bleddyn Jones, now a radio commentator, said it was best not to mix politics and sport.

A spokesman for Caterpillar said: "Caterpillar has compassion for all persons affected by the political strife in the Middle East and it supports a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Caterpillar's products are designed to improve quality of life. The vast majority of the three million Caterpillar products in operation around the world are playing a positive role in advancing global economic development and improving standards of living.

"Understandably, Caterpillar cannot monitor the use of every piece of its equipment around the world. However, we recognise the responsibility companies have to encourage the constructive use of their products.

"To that end, we do not condone the illegal or immoral use of any Caterpillar equipment, and we expect our customers to use our products in environmentally responsible ways and consistent with human rights and the requirements of international humanitarian law."

Posted on 01-06-2008

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