Sainsbury’s has cut short its multimillion-pound, four-year deal to sponsor British Athletics, the supermarket group revealed on Friday.
The news came as Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah prepared to lead a team of 62 British competitors to the World Championships in Beijing, where a week of games opens next week at the bird’s nest stadium.
The relationship with British Athletics was due to run until the end of 2017 but Sainsbury’s took advantage of a clause which allowed for a mid-point review, and decided to end its financial support two years ahead of schedule.
The company said its move was not linked to the wave of recent doping scandals that have rocked world athletics. Although the break has only now become public, British Athletics was informed of the decision late last year, according to Sainsbury’s. The sporting body did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The announcement could not have come at a more difficult time for the sport, with media revelations about blood doping followed this week by the suspension of a number of as yet unnamed athletes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). None of those suspended are understood to be from the UK.
In a statement, the grocer said: “Sainsbury’s has been a proud supporter of British Athletics since 2013 following our sponsorship of the London 2012 Paralympic Games … The decision was made as part of our strategic review last year. We wish British Athletics all the best with their future events programme.”
The Sainsbury’s deal was signed by Justin King, its former chief executive, but he left the company last year after a decade at the helm. His successor Mike Coupe joined in the midst of a supermarket price war. The retailer has been seeking to cut costs in order to lower prices for customers, and a spokeswoman said the decision to reduce sponsorship spend was part of its money-saving drive.
The supermarket group confirmed that July’s Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games will be the last to carry its branding. The loss of financial support now places a question mark over the prestigious annual event held in the former Olympic stadium at Queen Elizabeth Park, which this year featured winning performances from Farah and Usain Bolt.
Sainsbury’s will continue to support schools through its Active Kids vouchers programme, and the company has confirmed it will sponsor the UK Paralympic team competing at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Sainsbury’s pulled off a PR coup during London 2012 after becoming the first sponsor to back only the Paralympic games – the supermarket group put no money into the main event. It built on that success with the first anniversary games in the Olympic park in 2013, and then in 2014 Sainsbury’s signed a four-year deal to brand all British Athletics’ major UK events.
The cash injection was important for British Athletics, which had lost £8m a year when insurance company Aviva ended its support in 2012. The governing body, which still has sponsors including sports brand Nike, the National Lottery and BBC Sport, has been left looking for new backing at a time when many major brands will be wary of associating with athletics.
This article was written by Juliette Garside, for theguardian.com on Friday 14th August 2015 19.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010