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Why British PM Rishi Sunak's choice of sporting Adidas sneakers has created a furore?

Sunak sported the trendy $100 Adidas Sambas sneakers during an interview over his tax policies at 10 Downing Street. However, social media users were displeased by his latest fashion statement, saying he has ruined the look of the well-known footwear.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee London Updated on: April 11, 2024 13:23 IST
Rishi Sunak, Adidas shoes, backlash
Image Source : X Rishi Sunak's trendy, box-fresh Adidas Sambas trainers sparked backlash.

London: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recently made headlines after he wore a trendy pair of $100 Adidas Samba trainers during an interview in Downing Street. However, the reaction to his 'trendy look' may not have been what he expected, as social media was flooded with harsh comments criticising the 43-year-old Indian-origin leader for sporting the famous sneakers from Adidas.

During the interview, Sunak was promoting his government's tax policies and was seen wearing grey, white and black sneakers of the German sportswear brand, along with a white shirt, navy chinos and black shoes. Adidas Sambas is a popular footwear, being dubbed as the "coolest shoes" of the year - but not anymore. Some are calling it the end of Adidas Sambas, only because Sunak wore them.

The criticism was so intense that Sunak had to offer a "fulsome apology to the Samba community", adding that he was a "longtime devotee" of the brand and has been wearing the trainers for several years. The backfiring fashion moment comes at a particularly bad time for Sunak, as the popularity of the Conservatives is rapidly declining, indicating a major defeat in upcoming elections.

Why the hate against Sunak?

Sambas, launched in the 1950s, are described by Adidas as a "legendary shoe with a rich history" and is noted as a favourite of popstar Rihanna, British singer Harry Styles and American model Bella Hadid. However, footwear enthusiasts said the reputation of the brand had been damaged by the British PM trying to appear trendy, calling it a "death knell" for the brand.

While Sunak spoke about his government's tax policies, the entire focus was on his shoes. Several social media users said they would sell their shoes online as Sunak had ruined the look for everyone. Journalist Michael Hogan described the moment as "yet another try-hard bid to appear relatable" that had backfired. "Even the most ardent sneakerheads know there is a time and a place for a gum sole, and the British public have decided on-camera at 10 Downing Street is neither," CNN wrote.

The shoes appeared new and pristine, as if they had been taken straight out of the box, which further added to the criticism. "Unacceptable. In a bid to present himself as young and hip, Sunak took an eternally cool sneaker, and ruined it for everyone," wrote the British GQ magazine, adding that it seemed "transparent and cynical".

“His trainers really helped (the video) become easily understandable and relatable for me,” said one social media user in a sarcastic manner. "Rishi Sunak didn’t wear those sambas for any reason other than to appear more normal. The guys a fiend for PR and propaganda," another netizen wrote. "Absolutely unforgivable," summed up another user on X.

Notably, Sunak is the wealthiest Prime Minister in the history of the United Kingdom, while the country struggles with an economic crisis and the government mulls painful spending cuts. In May last year, he and his wife Akshata Murthy reported a staggering net worth of 730 million pounds ($837 million). The vast majority of his family's wealth comes from his wife, Akshata, Infosys founder Narayan Murthy's daughter, who has been accused of tax evasion.

Rishi Sunak's apology to Samba fans

Observing the intensity of social media backlash to his choice of Adidas Sambas, the British PM offered a "fulsome apology" but defended his choice of wearing the footwear. "In my defence, I would say I have been wearing Adidas trainers including Sambas – and others, in fact – for many, many years. The first pair my brother got for me many, many years ago – my first pair of fun Adidas trainers as a Christmas present. I haven't looked back since. So, I've been a long-time devotee," he said.

He also admitted that the pair he wore during the interview was freshly bought, but it did not diminish his long association with the brand. “As ever, I remain intrigued and amused by the amount of focus on what I'm wearing," added a laughing Sunak, who has been at the receiving end of barbs for expensive Italian designer slippers and curiously short length of his trousers in the past.

The backlash comes at a bad time for Rishi Sunak and his Conservative Party, as a recent poll predicted that the party will suffer the worst defeat at the national election expected this year against the Labour Party due to the government's failure to grow the economy and resolve the cost-of-living crisis. Sunak is also struggling to ride out infighting within the ranks, with sections to the right of the governing Conservative Party calling for a leadership change ahead of the election.

The poll indicated Sunak is still struggling to gain momentum after a tax-cutting budget last month and ahead of local elections in May. There are rumours that a group of Tory MPs are keen to replace Sunak with his former leadership rival and now Leader of the House of Commons in his Cabinet, Penny Mordaunt, who is poised to lose her seat, according to the YouGov poll. The survey predicted that the Conservatives will only win 155 seats in the next election, while Labour would clinch 403.

Other politicians sporting trendy footwear

Sunak is hardly the first person to wear trendy shoes in public. Former US President Barack Obama was seen wearing bpx-fresh Stan Smiths at an Obama Foundation event in Malaysia, which led to a majorly positive reaction on social media as some called it tasteful and on-point, CNN reported. US Vice President Kamala Harris was also lauded for wearing the Converse sneakers during the 2020 campaign trail as a "brave subversion" of the rules of political dress.

Why the different reaction to Sunak? This is because Obama was noted as a conservative dresser during his presidency, wearing only traditional suits like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. He started wearing sneakers only after he left the White House. Likewise, Harris also wore the sneakers on specific occasions, but never once while she was in the Oval Office, maintaining a sense of professionalism asnoted by others.

However, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Minority Leader Representative Hakeem Jeffries were photographed in the Oval Office wearing hybrid dress sneakers last year, and the response to similar to one faced by Sunak. Donald Trump was the first former President to capitalise on the rising trend as he launched a sneaker line in Philadelphia.

(with inputs from agencies)

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