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Nike's new England men's soccer shirt is causing a stir with its recolored flag

LONDON (AP) — England's new men's soccer team shirt is causing a bit of a stir. It's not just the price that's vexing some.

The decision by Nike to change the color of the St. George’s Cross on the shirt from the traditional red and white has even prompted the prime minister and the man who is favored to succeed him to make their displeasure known.

A petition on Change.org calling for a design change attracted more than 22,000 signatures by early afternoon Friday.

The new Nike-designed shirt, which has been modeled by England captain Harry Kane, is being rolled out in the run-up to the European Championship in Germany. The altered cross on the back of the shirt collar has purple and blue horizontal stripes.

Nike says it’s a “playful update” to the shirt and harks to the training kit England wore at the 1966 World Cup, the only major tournament won by the men’s team. England will be starting Euro 2024 this summer as one of the favorites.

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party and a fan of English Premier League leader Arsenal, said he believed the flag, which is marked by an image of the St. George’s Cross, was a “unifier” and Nike needed to "reconsider” its decision to modify it.

"It doesn’t need to be changed," he told the Sun newspaper. "We just need to be proud of it.”

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, on a visit to the north of England, was also asked about the altered cross.

“I prefer the original and my general view is that when it comes to our national flags, we shouldn't mess with them because they are a source of pride, identity, who we are and they're perfect as they are,” said Sunak, who supports Southampton, which is vying for promotion back to the Premier League.

Nike and the English Football Association have indicated they are not going to change tack.

Despite the criticism, the FA defended the design, saying it was “not the first time” different colored St. George’s Cross-inspired designs have appeared on England shirts and it was “very proud” of the traditional cross.

“The new England 2024 home kit has a number of design elements which were meant as a tribute to the 1966 World Cup-winning team,” a spokesperson said. “The colored trim on the cuffs is inspired by the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, and the same colors also feature on the design on the back of the collar."

England coach Gareth Southgate said the furor has “not been high on my list of priorities” this week as he prepares to lead the team into friendly matches against Brazil on Saturday and Belgium on Tuesday.

“It's a hard question to answer really because it is presumably some artistic take which I am not creative enough to understand,” Southgate said when asked about his thoughts on the new design.

“What you are really asking,” he said, “is should we be tampering with the cross of St. George? In my head, if it is not a red cross and a white background, then it isn’t a cross of St. George anyway.”

Southgate added that, for him, it was more important that the symbol of the three lions stayed on the shirt than the St. George's Cross.

“It’s our iconic symbol — it is what distinguishes us not only from football teams around the world but from England rugby and England cricket,” he said of the three lions.

John Barnes, one of England's best players, said he could not understand what all the fuss was about.

“It’s a much ado about nothing,” the 60-year-old former winger said.

For most people, the problem will be less the color of the flag and more its price tag. An “authentic” version for adults will cost 125 pounds ($155) and 120 pounds for children. That's quite an outlay at a time when household budgets have been stretched as a result of one of the most acute cost-of-living crises in decades.

The Football Supporters’ Association has long bemoaned the high cost of replica shirts and suggested that a “sell-by” date should be put on kits so buyers know how long it will be in use before a newer version is released.

“An unwitting parent could easily buy a kit for Christmas or a birthday to find it’s ‘old’ within a matter of months," a spokesperson for the group said.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this story.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer