Nike disappoints fans by signing shamed sprinter Justin Gatlin soon after dropping inspirational distance runner Jo Pavey
If Paula Radcliffe has been left perplexed by her sponsor’s decision to offer a kit contract to Justin Gatlin then fellow distance runner Jo Pavey must be even more puzzled and upset.
The European 10,000m champion was dropped by Nike recently despite winning a raft of awards at the end of last year for her inspirational and ageless performances.
The 41-year-old was the No.1 British athlete of the year by a country mile and the supermum finished third in the BBC Sports Personality contest due to her mixture of distance-running talent, never-say-die race tactics and down-to-earth character.
So when Radcliffe tweeted that she was “disappointed” by Nike’s dubious move into the world of endorsing sprinters who have failed drugs tests, then I can only imagine Pavey’s dismay as someone cast adrift by the shoe giant just months after her greatest ever season.
It is not as if Pavey has had a fleeting relationship with Nike either. The Exeter Harrier has been running with a swoosh on her singlet since 1997.
While the diplomatic Pavey is sensibly keeping her counsel, Jenny Meadows, a similarly inspirational endurance athlete who has recently found herself minus a shoe sponsor, is one of several well-known runners who have slated Nike’s decision.
Meadows tweeted: “Gatlin gets Nike deal having served 2 doping bans when clean athletes lead world indoor rankings & have no funding or sponsorship! Justice?”
Other athletes such as sprinters Jason Gardener, Marlon Devonish and Darren Campbell have also criticised the decision. The one organisation everyone wants to hear from, though, is Nike.
What is their reasoning behind signing an athlete who has failed drugs tests and has become one of the most maligned athletes on the circuit due to his unrepentant attitude?
As a company who routinely churns out thousands of words every week in press releases and other publicity material, it would be nice to see just one or two sentences of ‘statement’ from them.
Maybe, I fear, they just don’t care and the furore being whipped up primarily in the UK by fans and Fleet Street newspapers is little more than a squeak when set against the bigger picture of US-dominated global track and field.
What is horrific in one part of the world is also perhaps not so bad elsewhere. The American track and field fraternity, for example, has never quite seemed so concerned by Gatlin’s return to the sport as European fans and athletes.
Athletes such as Robert Harting, the Olympic and world discus champion from Germany, who withdrew from the IAAF’s world athlete of the year poll because the world governing body had included Gatlin as a fellow contender.
It gives me no pleasure to put the boot into Nike here. I wore my first Nike running shoes aged 11-12 in about 1980, have always enjoyed their footwear and only this month bought my teenage daughter a pair of Nike FREE iD shoes with her name on them for £120. Take me back a few weeks, though, and I might have reversed that decision.
Now, athletes and fans alike are threatening to boycott their shoes and clothing. Yet Nike can still redeem itself by bowing to public opinion, apologising for a duff decision and telling Gatlin to take his steroid-stained CV elsewhere.