Calls for Nike to get the boot

By Benjamin Haslem

AUSTRALIA'S Paralympians should push to replace Nike as their sportswear supplier in response to a degrading advertisement about the disabled, one of the country's leading disability sports groups said yesterday.

Wheelchair Sports Australia chairman Michael Godfrey-Roberts foreshadowed a consumer backlash against Nike and said the team should dump the company if another manufacturer offered to step in.

But he acknowledged that finding a replacement would be tough and praised Nike's overall record of supporting disabled sport in Australia.

Mr Godfrey-Roberts was commenting on a Nike advertisement describing disabled people as drooling, misshapen husks roaming the earth in motorised wheelchairs. The advertisement appeared in several US outdoor magazines available in Australia.

"If we were in a fortunate position to be able to make a choice, I have a feeling they would be saying: 'Thank you very much, Nike. We are going to a competitor, they are nicer people,' " Mr Godfrey-Roberts said.

Disability groups and federal politicians yesterday joined the growing international chorus condemning the clothing giant.

Democrats leader Meg Lees said Nike should boost its support of the Paralympic team as compensation for the hurt it had caused.

Senator Lees described the advertisement as "appalling, unconscionable and barely believable".

"An apology is nowhere near good enough," she said.

Opposition sports spokeswoman Kate Lundy agreed that Nike should consider such a gesture.

"Any extra funding or support that the Paralympians can get out of Nike is a positive thing and they should go for it," she said.

National Council on Intellectual Disability executive director Mark Pattison said the advertisement was revolting. But he cautioned against punishing Nike for one blunder, considering the company's history of supporting the disabled.

"They pulled the ad straight away and gave a reasonable apology," Mr Pattison said.

"Even though it was appalling and tasteless and out of order, they have responded in a semi-appropriate way."

Physical Disability Council of Australia president Maurice Corcoran said the advertisement had damaged 20 years of work by advocacy groups fighting negative attitudes towards the disabled.

Carolyn Frohmader, from Women With Disabilities, said disability group websites around the world had been flooded with messages expressing outrage over the advertisement.