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Pakistani Firm Slams Czech Rugby For 'Desecrating Allah'

Currently ranked 36th in the world, the Czech national rugby team rarely gets much media attention.
Currently ranked 36th in the world, the Czech national rugby team rarely gets much media attention.

Although it's a country with a small and dedicated playing community, rugby is not a sport that regularly makes the headlines in the Czech Republic.

Now, however, the rough-and-tumble game has suddenly found itself in the local media spotlight despite the national team's fairly lackluster exploits on the field of play.

The source of this unexpected press attention is a religious controversy in faraway Pakistan and the perceived misuse of the word "Allah."

As part of a sponsorship deal with Adidas, a sports clothing and accessories firm, the cost-conscious Czech rugby association (CSRU) was looking forward to getting a free set of custom-made rugby balls for its international team and national leagues.

Unfortunately, the Pakistani textile firm that handles these kinds of orders for Adidas unexpectedly refused to produce the goods because of the use of the Czech state symbol in the rugby association's logo, which was meant to be sewn onto the balls.

The Czech rugby logo that has offended some in Pakistan
The Czech rugby logo that has offended some in Pakistan

Apparently, the rugby version of the two-tailed lion emblazoned on most of the national team's merchandise contains the word "Allah" written in Arabic, something many Muslims consider to be a desecration of their deity.

Although -- as this photo shows -- there is an evident similarity between how Allah is written in Arabic and the two tails of the Czech lion, these allegations of blasphemy have completely blindsided the rugby logo's authors, whose creation has won several international design awards.

"I'd say that [this logo] has been seen by tens of thousands of experts all over the world and all of them saw it in a positive light," Martin Charvat from the Konektor PR agency told Czech TV. "None of them found anything untoward about it."

Intentional or not, this probably isn't the sort of controversy that anyone really wants right now, at a time of heightened religious sensitivities following the recent deadly attack by Islamist extremists on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris for publishing images depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

Czech religious expert Ivan Odilo Stampach suggests that the Pakistani objections should be respected.

"The tail of the lion is accidentally similar to how God, or Allah, is written in Arabic," he said. 'I don't believe it is meant as some kind of insult. ... I personally think they're being oversensitive, but in this case I would respect their feelings, because it's a business matter."

Some in the Czech Muslim community also believe the complaint should be taken seriously.

"You can see the name Allah in anything," said Muneeb Hassan Alrawi, the chairman of the Union of Muslim Organizations. "Nonetheless, [this Pakistani firm] definitely has the right to say, 'Please let someone else do this job.'"

Happily, it seems the Czech rugby association agrees that discretion is the better part of valor and has kicked the matter into touch for now.

CSRU General Secretary Pavel Mysak says the association has decided to drop the logo from the order specifications and the balls will now simply have the words "Czech Rugby"

He described the new design as the "most practicable" solution to the controversy and the least likely to cause offense.

The new inoffensive ball
The new inoffensive ball