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California bans Adidas kangaroo soccer shoes

The California Supreme Court has banned the sale of soccer cleats popularized by soccer star David Beckham and other goods made from kangaroo leather.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The California Supreme Court has banned the sale of soccer cleats popularized by soccer star David Beckham and other goods made from kangaroo leather.

But the statewide prohibition — the only one of its kind in the nation — may be short-lived.

Legislation allowing kangaroo-derived products made by the sporting goods maker Adidas and other companies passed the state Senate earlier this year. It’s expected to clear the Assembly and land on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk as early as September.

Still, animal right activists who sued Adidas were emboldened by Monday’s ruling, which overturned two lower court decisions holding that California’s kangaroo ban interferes with federal support of Australia’s wildlife management plans.

The activists oppose kangaroo products because they say hunters mistakenly shoot endangered species. They also say abundant kangaroo species are killed cruelly — sometimes shot during night hunting parties, and sometimes clubbed to death as babies.

“We sued because of the horrific way kangaroos are killed,” said Lauren Ornelas of Viva International Voice for Animals, which filed the lawsuit. “We sued because of the way Adidas is snubbing their noses at California’s law.”

California Attorney General Jerry Brown also joined the lawsuit on Viva’s side on behalf of the state’s Fish and Game Department. Brown said the ruling enforced the state’s power.

“The state has the authority to make determinations under the state Endangered Species Act and can protect even species that are in far away countries like Australia,” Brown said. “When you create a market for certain animal skins, then you encourage people to kill that animal species.”

In 1971, the state banned the sale of products made from kangaroos and a host of other animals threatened with extinction, including elephants, sea otters and vicunas. In 1974, the federal Fish and Wildlife agency listed three kangaroo species in question as threatened and banned the import of goods made with the marsupials’ hides.

In 1995, after the Australian government said the kangaroo populations had recovered, the U.S. agency removed the animals from its threatened list and allowed for the importation of kangaroo leather.

The Australian government, which filed court papers siding with Adidas, said there were about 25 million of the kangaroos at issue bouncing around in 2005 — and hunting them is sound wildlife management.

“This issue will continue to go through the legal and legislative processes in California, but consumers should not be intimidated by the scare tactics of those extremists who have a long term agenda of banning the use of all non-endangered animal products,” Australian Trade Minister Warren Truss said in a statement after the court issued its ruling.

Adidas — the biggest industrial customer of kangaroo leather — uses the hides to make the popular Predator cleats. Soccer players say the shoes are lighter and more airy than competing brands.

Beckham, who appeared in his first game for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, has worn Predator cleats for several years as part of his multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with the company.

Last year, Beckham announced his Predator cleats would be made of synthetic leather instead of kangaroo hide.

“David wears synthetic Predator boots so this ruling has no relevance to us,” Beckham’s spokesman Simon Oliveira wrote in a terse e-mail. Oliveira declined further comment.

Adidas spent $435,000 in lobbying efforts since 2003, the first year legislation was introduced to repeal the kangaroo ban.

The legislation cleared a key Assembly committee last week after passing the full Senate in May.

“The change in state law is long overdue,” said Rocky Rushing, a top aide to the chief sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello. “It will promote commerce.”

Calderon said he doesn’t expect the state Supreme Court ruling to slow the bill’s passage, which he expected to reach the governor’s desk by September.