In Depth

Nike to replace Adidas as IAAF sponsor - who has the moral high ground?

Company's decision to withdraw from sponsorship deal may be more to do with hard-headed business than concerns over doping

Nike is set to take over as a sponsor of the IAAF after rival sportswear manufacturer Adidas moved to end its association with the scandal-hit organisation four years before the end of its deal.

The German company wants to cut short its 11-year agreement with the athletics world governing body because of concerns about its possible involvement in the doping scandal that has seen the arrest of former IAAF president Lamine Diack and led to the suspension of Russia from international competition.

A report by the World Anti-Doping Authority last month claimed corruption was "embedded" in the IAAF and that leading figures within the organisation must have been aware of it.

The deal, which was due to run until 2019, was reported to be worth $3m (£2.09m) a year in cash and included the supply of Adidas products. "The IAAF still expects to get its money, saying it has been underwritten by Dentsu, its commercial partner," reports The Times. "[It] could, however, be hit by the loss of equipment supplies."

But now Nike is now poised to step in, says the Daily Mail. "The prospect of Nike being tempted to replace Adidas also looks possible, especially given the 38-year relationship between the company and IAAF president Lord Coe, who took over from Lamine Diack in August," claims the newspaper.

The Mail contrasts Adidas's stance over the IAAF claims with its attitude towards Fifa, another scandal-hit organisation which it continues to sponsor. But it suggests the sportswear firm may be sticking to its principles.

"Adidas has in recent years tried to position itself as being firmly anti-doping - some observers say as a deliberate tactic to point the finger at its main rivals Nike, who sponsor high-profile athletes who have served doping bans such as sprinter Justin Gatlin. Tyson Gay was dropped by Adidas when he tested positive for a banned substance in 2013," it says.

Others are not so sure. "To anyone with more than a passing knowledge of the fascinating, twisted history of Adidas, the idea that it has suddenly discovered its moral compass and taken a stand against the fetid corruption and institutionalised doping in athletics is laughable," writes Owen Gibson in The Guardian.

"More likely is the fact that business considerations make its decision to terminate its lucrative sponsorship deal an expedient course of action at this stage."

The company has increased its focus on, and investment in, football in recent years and disentangling itself from athletics under such circumstances may prove to be a shrewd piece of marketing, suggests Gibson.

"[Yet] even if this is a cynical and opportunistic move rather than a moral and upstanding one, it highlights just how far athletics has fallen – and how much further it still could plummet."

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