In Depth

Sports Direct under fire for 'Welsh ban'

Retailer apologises for memo telling Bangor staff to speak in English only

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Sports Direct has landed in hot water in Wales after a notice was put up ordering staff at its Bangor store to speak in English only.

"It has come to our attention that some members of staff are speaking in languages other than English whilst carrying out their duties," the memo said. "We would like to take this opportunity to remind staff that they must speak in English at all times when they are at work, in order that they can be understood by all members of staff."

The note, which appeared at the Bangor store on Saturday, added that other languages could be spoken during lunch or tea breaks, but that all other communication - even private conversations with other employees - must be conducted in English.

The order was issued from head office and was not directed specifically at any one language. But in Wales, where Welsh is an official language on an equal basis with English, the announcement caused outrage.

Welsh speakers, including BBC newsreader Huw Edwards, accused the sports retailer of discriminating against the minority language, which is spoken by more than 560,000 people - around 20 per cent of the population.

Some even suspected that the company's crackdown on foreign languages might have an ulterior motive:

Sports Direct apologised and said it would be reviewing the wording of the offending memo, which it said was "intended to ensure that all staff, who attended briefings on health and safety and other important issues, fully understood the content of these communications", the BBC reports.

"English is the most common language used by our multi-lingual staff and, therefore, the most likely to be understood by all," the firm said in a statement.

Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws has said she will be looking into the incident to see if it breached any legislation.

Under the Welsh Languages (Wales) Measure 2011, Welsh must not be treated less favourably than English in public life. The Commissioner is empowered to investigate complaints from Welsh speakers who claim to have been unfairly denied the right to communicate in Welsh.

According to the Commissioner's website, such incidents might include "situations where someone says that a person shouldn't use Welsh (verbally or in writing) with another person who also wants to use it". 

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